Nanoscale structural and functional mapping of nacre by scanning probe microscopy techniques
Nacre has received great attention due to its nanoscale hierarchical structure and extraordinary mechanical properties. Meanwhile, the nanoscale piezoelectric properties of nacre have also been investigated but the structure–function relationship has never been addressed. In this work, firstly we realized quantitative nanomechanical mapping of nacre of a green abalone using atomic force acoustic microscopy (AFAM). The modulus of the mineral tablets is determined to be ∼80 GPa and that of the organic biopolymer no more than 23 GPa, and the organic–inorganic interface width is determined to be about 34 ± 9 nm. Then, we conducted both AFAM and piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM) mapping in the same scanning area to explore the correlations between the nanomechanical and piezoelectric properties. The PFM testing shows that the organic biopolymer exhibits a significantly stronger piezoresponse than the mineral tablets, and they permeate each other, which is very difficult to reproduce in artificial materials. Finally, the phase hysteresis loops and amplitude butterfly loops were also observed using switching spectroscopy PFM, implying that nacre may also be a bio-ferroelectric material. The obtained nanoscale structural and functional properties of nacre could be very helpful in understanding its deformation mechanism and designing biomimetic materials of extraordinary properties.