Inhomogeneity of Nacre Lamellae on the Nanometer Length Scale

We present experimental evidence of inhomogeneous distribution of organic inclusions within individual aragonitic lamellae forming the nacre layer of mollusk shells. This nanoscale-inhomogeneity is visualized in the Perna canaliculus (green mussel) shells by the aid of high-angle annular dark field scanning transmission electron microscopy (HAADF-STEM) in the tomography mode. Electron tomography reconstructions of the three-dimensional distribution of intracrystalline organic inclusions, ranging in size between 2 to 25 nm, clearly reveal 50 nm wide depletion zones adjacent to the organic sheets between lamellae. The interrelation between the observed fine-scale inhomogeneity of nacre layer and its improved mechanical properties is discussed.