Naturally inspired polyelectrolyte multilayer composite films synthesised through layer-by-layer assembly and chemically infiltrated with CaCO3
Naturally occurring composite structures like antler bone and nacre have a highly ordered structural design at the nanoscale. Nature's successful architecture has attracted widespread interest in mimicking such systems artificially, the goal being to design tough composite materials with adaptable mechanical properties. Here we report results on synthesis pathways towards fabricating such materials, including a chemical infiltration route where calcium carbonate particles nucleate and grow inside polyelectrolyte multilayers assembled via a layer-by-layer route. SEM analysis demonstrates a considerable change in the morphology of thin films upon chemical infiltration. The depth of mineralisation within the multilayer is confirmed by TOF-SIMS studies of both mineralised and non-mineralised thin films. TGA was used to calculate the overall content of CaCO3 within multilayer films. Infiltrated multilayers have shown up to 60% w/w of calcium carbonate which is comparable to structures like bones. X-ray diffraction to characterise the crystallographic structure and micromechanical testing involving nano-indentation have also been conducted. The Young's modulus of mineralised multilayer thin films significantly increased up to 10 GPa after infiltration in comparison to the non-mineralised multilayers with a modulus of only 3.8 GPa, while the increase in hardness is almost 50-fold. Thus, the synthetic composites can be compared with natural biomineralised tissues like nacre, ultimately replicating the natural strength of biomimetic materials on the nanoscale.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Highlighting materials research in the UK for biology and medicine