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Strong, tough and stiff bioinspired ceramics from brittle constituents

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 December 2017

This article has been updated


High strength and high toughness are usually mutually exclusive in engineering materials. In ceramics, improving toughness usually relies on the introduction of a metallic or polymeric ductile phase, but this decreases the material’s strength and stiffness as well as its high-temperature stability. Although natural materials that are both strong and tough rely on a combination of mechanisms operating at different length scales, the relevant structures have been extremely difficult to replicate. Here, we report a bioinspired approach based on widespread ceramic processing techniques for the fabrication of bulk ceramics without a ductile phase and with a unique combination of high strength (470 MPa), high toughness (17.3 MPa m1/2), and high stiffness (290 GPa). Because only mineral constituents are needed, these ceramics retain their mechanical properties at high temperatures (600 °C). Our bioinspired, material-independent approach should find uses in the design and processing of materials for structural, transportation and energy-related applications.

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Figure 1: Design strategy describing the control at multiple scales of structural self-organization, and densification strategy.
Figure 2: Comparison of microstructures.
Figure 3: Mechanical properties of nacre-like alumina and nacre.
Figure 4: Comparison of the relative materials performance.

Change history

  • 10 November 2017

    In the original version of this Article, the R-curves, which quantify how the toughness increases when the crack propagates, were measured following published guidelines (M. E. Launey, Acta Mater. 57, 2919–2932; 2009). Robert Ritchie (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) proposes that the 2013 ASTM E1820 standard (Standard Test Method for the Measurement of Fracture Toughness) is a more appropriate guideline. The authors agree, and have therefore corrected the toughness values in the Article to meet the ASTM standard. Specifically, Figs 3c,j and 4 have been amended and the original toughness values (in MPa m1/2) of 22 (abstract and page 510) and 21 (page 511) have been replaced with 17.3 and 16.4, respectively. For consistency, the following changes have been made. On page 510, the text "By taking into account the local deflection as well as the other dissipation mechanisms with a J-integral, and by using the equivalence in the stress intensity factor, we find that the maximum increase of toughness is extremely high, around 22 MPa m1/2. This corresponds to a 350% increase compared to the KIc toughness (600% increase with respect to the reference alumina)." has been changed to "According to the ASTM criterion, the maximum increase of toughness is extremely high, around 17.3 MPa m1/2. This corresponds to a 300% increase compared to the KIc toughness (500% increase with respect to the reference alumina)." On page 512, the sentence “The unique combination of specific strength ((σf/ρ) and specific toughness (Kc/ρ) of our bioinspired ceramic material actually matches that of engineering aluminium and magnesium alloys (Fig. 4b) while exhibiting higher hardness (16 GPa), stiffness and operating temperature.” has been changed to "The unique combination of specific strength ((σf/ρ) and specific toughness (Kc/ρ) of our bioinspired ceramic material actually matches that of glass-fibre-reinforced plastics (GFRP; Fig. 4b) while exhibiting high hardness (16 GPa), stiffness and operating temperature." On page 513, the following sentence has been removed: "However, toughness measurements can be considered valid until the data becomes geometry dependent due to large-scale bridging37, which here corresponds to Δa=0.8 mm. The values reported here were thus always obtained within a valid range of crack extension." In the caption of Fig. 4, "The nacre-like aluminas have specific strength/toughness properties similar to those of titanium or magnesium metallic alloys" has been changed to "The nacre-like aluminas have specific strength/toughness properties similar to those of GFRP".


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We acknowledge the financial support of the ANRT (Association Nationale Recherche Technologie) and Saint-Gobain through a CIFRE fellowship, convention #808/2010. We are indebted to the Centre Lyonnais de Microscopie (CLYM) for access to the FIB microscope. Acknowledgements are due to Guillaume Bonnefont from MATEIS for his assistance on the sintering equipment, and C. Barentin from the ILM for tipping us on the Carbopol to obtain a yield stress suspension.

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S.D. and E.M. designed the research, F.B. processed the sample and performed the mechanical testing, F.B. and S.M. performed the high-temperature mechanical testing, F.B. and B.V.d.M. investigated the structure, all authors analysed and discussed the results, F.B., A.J.S. and S.D. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Sylvain Deville.

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Bouville, F., Maire, E., Meille, S. et al. Strong, tough and stiff bioinspired ceramics from brittle constituents. Nature Mater 13, 508–514 (2014).

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