Skeleton of Euplectella sp.: structural hierarchy from the nanoscale to the macroscale.
Structural materials in nature exhibit remarkable designs with building blocks, often hierarchically arranged from the nanometer to the macroscopic length scales. We report on the structural properties of biosilica observed in the hexactinellid sponge Euplectella sp. Consolidated, nanometer-scaled silica spheres are arranged in well-defined microscopic concentric rings glued together by organic matrix to form laminated spicules. The assembly of these spicules into bundles, effected by the laminated silica-based cement, results in the formation of a macroscopic cylindrical square-lattice cagelike structure reinforced by diagonal ridges. The ensuing design overcomes the brittleness of its constituent material, glass, and shows outstanding mechanical rigidity and stability. The mechanical benefits of each of seven identified hierarchical levels and their comparison with common mechanical engineering strategies are discussed.
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