Bioinspired layered materials with superior mechanical performance

Qunfeng Cheng, Lei Jiang, Zhiyong Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

269 Citations (Scopus)


ConspectusNature has inspired researchers to construct structures with ordered layers as candidates for new materials with high mechanical performance. As a prominent example, nacre, also known as mother of pearl, consists of a combination of inorganic plates (aragonite calcium carbonate, 95% by volume) and organic macromolecules (elastic biopolymer, 5% by volume) and shows a unique combination of strength and toughness. Investigations of its structure reveal that the hexagonal platelets of calcium carbonate and the amorphous biopolymer are alternatively assembled into the orderly layered structure. The delicate interface between the calcium carbonate and the biopolymer is well defined. Both the building blocks that make up these assembled layers and the interfaces between the inorganic and organic components contribute to the excellent mechanical property of natural nacre.In this Account, we summarize recent research from our group and from others on the design of bioinspired materials composed by layering various primitive materials. We focus particular attention on nanoscale carbon materials. Using several examples, we describe how the use of different combinations of layered materials leads to particular properties. Flattened double-walled carbon nanotubes (FDWCNTs) covalently cross-linked in a thermoset three-dimensional (3D) network produced the materials with the highest strength. The stiffest layered materials were generated from borate orthoester covalent bonding between adjacent graphene oxide (GO) nanosheets, and the toughest layered materials were fabricated with Al2O3 platelets and chitosan via hydrogen bonding. These new building blocks, such as FDWCNTs and GO, and the replication of the elaborate micro-/nanoscale interface of natural nacre have provided many options for developing new high performance artificial materials.The interface designs for bioinspired layered materials are generally categorized into (1) hydrogen bonding, (2) ionic bonding, and (3) covalent bonding. Using these different strategies, we can tune the materials to have specific mechanical characteristics such as high strength, excellent strain resistance, or remarkable toughness. Among these design strategies, hydrogen bonding affords soft interfaces between the inorganic plates and the organic matrix. Covalent cross-linking forms chemical bonds between the inorganic plates and the organic matrix, leading to much stronger interfaces. The interfaces formed by ionic bonding are stronger than those formed by hydrogen bonding but weaker than those formed by covalent bonding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1256-1266
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes

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