Characterization of the growth surfaces removed from red and green abalone (Haliotis) shells shows a terraced cone mode of mineralization in which the organic layer is deposited periodically and regulates the formation of tiles with ~500nm thickness. The details of the mineral and organic layer surface are revealed by atomic force microscopy; the surface roughness and the thickness of the tiles in the terraces and organic intertile layer were measurement. Nanoindentation experiments at the top of the terraced cones confirm a hardness of the same order as that of completely mineralized surfaces. Indentation of the organic layer provides a force-deflection curve that can be expressed as tension on a centrally-loaded membrane. The results show that the dry organic layer is very stiff and deforms inelastically or cracks under the indenter, whereas in the fully hydrated state it shows a low modulus and strength and great extensibility. This strongly suggests that this organic interlayer acquires considerable strength and stiffness as a result of the drying process, which is consistent with a T g of approximately 200°C for chitin. The chitin network that forms the structural component of the intertile layer is revealed and the orientation and spacing are measured. Terraced cones broken under the force of a flexing and shrinking organic layer enable the estimation of the tensile strength of the abalone when loaded through the fracture of the mineral bridges. Calculations show consistency with earlier tensile strength measurements of <10MPa.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.