Teeth and bone are important and complex structures in humans and other animals, but little is actually known about their chemical structure at the atomic scale. What exactly gives them their renowned toughness, hardness and strength? How do organisms control the synthesis of these advanced functional composites?
Now, using a highly sophisticated atomic-scale imaging tool on a sea creature’s tooth, two Northwestern University researchers have peeled away some of the mystery of organic/inorganic interfaces that are at the heart of tooth and bone structure. They are the first to produce a 3-D map of the location and identity of millions of individual atoms in the complex hybrid material that allows the animal to literally chew rock.