The ability to mimic the hierarchical order at multiple length scales in natural materials, such as bone, is crucial for a bottom-up approach to materials design. Being able to mimic the formation of self-assembled nanocomposites of calcium phosphate using block copolypeptides as templates has allowed us to grow hydroxyapatite nanocrystals in the organic matrix with sizes and morphologies similar to that seen in natural bone. The hydroxyapatite nanocrystal size in the synthetic nanocomposites was determined controlled through the use of citrate, similar to native bone.
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Understanding the mechanism of action of mineralization proteins, such as Mms6 that promote the growth of uniform nanocrystals of magnetite as well as cobalt ferrite under room temperature conditions, enables us to design more stable synthetic analogs that can perform these functions in a much more robust manner. To elucidate the mechanism of Mms6, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy techniques were developed at the Ames Laboratory and showed that Mms6 binds selectively to Fe3+ and in large quantities, compared to other ions.
For the first time, researchers can now both explain and predict the behavior of different materials while they are being pulled apart. Some materials are ductile, meaning they will deform without losing their toughness, and others are brittle. The results explain even the unexpected and anomalous ductility of a material within a class of rare-earth-containing materials that are otherwise known to be brittle. To predict the behavior requires two maps. The first map reveals whether a system has the ability to slip i