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In situ micropillar compression reveals superior strength and ductility but an absence of damage in lamellar bone



Ageing societies suffer from an increasing incidence of bone fractures. Bone strength depends on the amount of mineral measured by clinical densitometry, but also on the micromechanical properties of the hierarchical organization of bone. Here, we investigate the mechanical response under monotonic and cyclic compression of both single osteonal lamellae and macroscopic samples containing numerous osteons. Micropillar compression tests in a scanning electron microscope, microindentation and macroscopic compression tests were performed on dry ovine bone to identify the elastic modulus, yield stress, plastic deformation, damage accumulation and failure mechanisms. We found that isolated lamellae exhibit a plastic behaviour, with higher yield stress and ductility but no damage. In agreement with a proposed rheological model, these experiments illustrate a transition from a ductile mechanical behaviour of bone at the microscale to a quasi-brittle response driven by the growth of cracks along interfaces or in the vicinity of pores at the macroscale.

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Figure 1: Observed failure modes of bone on the micro- and macroscale.
Figure 2: Experimental curves and post-yield behaviour of monotonic micropillar compression tests.
Figure 3: Model predictions, experimental curves and normalized apparent modulus evolution of cyclic compression tests on the micro- and macroscale.
Figure 4: Rheological model describing the mechanical response of bone under compression.
Figure 5: Dominant failure mechanism observed on the microscale.


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The authors would like to thank M. Mirzaali for help with the specimen preparation, I. Utke for the discussions about ion–matter interactions and SRIM, C. Schwiedrzik for valuable comments on the manuscript, and D. Frey and G. Buerki for technical assistance with the in situ indenter and FIB milling.

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The initial planning of the study was done by J.S., R.R., J.M. and P.Z. The FIB was operated by R.R. Micropillar compressions and SEM imaging were performed by J.S. and R.R., Raman measurements and interpretation were performed by V.L. Monte Carlo simulations and microindentations were performed by J.S. Macroscopic tests were performed by J.S., U.W. and A.B. Data analysis was performed by J.S. and R.R. with the assistance of U.W., and interpreted in cooperation with J.M. and P.Z. Modelling was performed by J.S. and P.Z. The manuscript was written by J.S. with contributions from all the authors.

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Correspondence to Jakob Schwiedrzik.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Schwiedrzik, J., Raghavan, R., Bürki, A. et al. In situ micropillar compression reveals superior strength and ductility but an absence of damage in lamellar bone. Nature Mater 13, 740–747 (2014).

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