Material properties of brachiopod shell ultrastructure by nanoindentation

Alberto Perez-Huerta, Maggie Cusack, Wenzhong Zhu, Jennifer England, John Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Mineral-producing organisms exert exquisite control on all aspects of biomineral production. Among shell-bearing organisms, a wide range of mineral fabrics are developed reflecting diverse modes of life that require different material properties. Our knowledge of how biomineral structures relate to material properties is still limited because it requires the determination of these properties on a detailed scale. Nanoindentation, mostly applied in engineering and materials science, is used here to assess, at the microstructural level, material properties of two calcite brachiopods living in the same environment but with different modes of life and shell ultrastructure. Values of hardness (H) and the Young modulus of elasticity (E) are determined by nanoindentation. In brachiopod shells, calcite semi-nacre provides a harder and stiffer structure (H similar to 3 6 GPa; E=60 110/120 GPa) than calcite fibres (H=0 3 GPa; E=20 60/80 GPa). Thus, brachiopods with calcite semi-nacre can cement to a substrate and remain immobile during their adult life cycle. This correlation between mode of life and material properties, as a consequence of ultrastructure, begins to explain why organisms produce a wide range of structures using the same chemical components, such as calcium carbonate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-39
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2007


  • nanoindentation
  • brachiopod
  • biomineral
  • shell ultrastructure
  • ecology


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