X-ray diffraction and in situ pressurization of dentine apatite reveals nanocrystal modulus stiffening upon carbonate removal
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Bone-like materials comprise carbonated-hydroxyapatite nanocrystals (c-Ap) embedding a fibrillar collagen matrix. The mineral particles stiffen the nanocomposite by tight attachment to the protein fibrils creating a high strength and toughness material. The nanometer dimensions of c-Ap crystals make it very challenging to measure their mechanical properties. Mineral in bony tissues such as dentine contains 2~6 wt.% carbonate with possibly different elastic properties as compared with crystalline hydroxyapatite. Here we determine strain in biogenic apatite nanocrystals by directly measuring atomic deformation in pig dentine before and after removing carbonate. Transmission electron microscopy revealed the platy 3D morphology while atom probe tomography revealed carbon inside the calcium rich domains. High-energy X-ray diffraction in combination with in situ hydrostatic pressurization quantified reversible c-Ap deformations. Crystal strains differed between annealed and ashed (decarbonated) samples, following 1 or 10 h heating at 250 °C or 550 °C respectively. Measured bulk moduli (K) and a-/c-lattice deformation ratios (η) were used to generate synthetic Ksyn and ηsyn identifying the most likely elastic constants C33 and C13 for c-Ap. These were then used to calculate the nanoparticle elastic moduli. For ashed samples, we find an average E11=107 GPa and E33 =128 GPa corresponding to ~5% and ~17% stiffening of the a-/c-axes of the nanocrystals as compared with the biogenic nanocrystals in annealed samples. Ashed samples exhibit ~10% lower Poisson's ratios as compared with the 0.25~0.36 range of carbonated apatite. Carbonate in c-Ap may therefore serve for tuning local deformability within bony tissues. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Carbonated apatite nanoparticles, typical for bony tissues, stiffen the network of collagen fibrils. However, it is not known if the biogenic apatite mechanical (elastic) properties differ from those of geologic mineral counterparts. Indeed the tiny dimensions and variable carbonate composition may have strong effects on deformation resistance. The present study provides experimental measurements of the elastic constants which we use to estimate Young's moduli and Poisson's ratio values. Comparison between ashed and annealed dentine samples quantifies the properties of both carbonated and decarbonated apatite nanocrystals. The results reveal fundamental attributes of bony mineral and showcase the additive advantages of combining X-ray diffraction with in situ hydrostatic compression, backed by atom probe and transmission electron microscopy tomography.
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