Thickness of hydroxyapatite nanocrystal controls mechanical properties of the collagen-hydroxyapatite interface

Zhao Qin, Alfonso Gautieri, Arun K. Nair, Hadass Inbar, Markus J. Buehler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Collagen-hydroxyapatite interfaces compose an important building block of bone structures. While it is known that the nanoscale structure of this elementary building block can affect the mechanical properties of bone, a systematic understanding of the effect of the geometry on the mechanical properties of this interface between protein and mineral is lacking. Here we study the effect of geometry, different crystal surfaces, and hydration on the mechanical properties of collagen-hydroxyapatite interfaces from an atomistic perspective, and discuss underlying deformation mechanisms. We find that the presence of hydroxyapatite significantly enhances the tensile modulus and strength compared with a tropocollagen molecule alone. The stiffening effect is strongly dependent on the thickness of the mineral crystal until a plateau is reached at 2 nm crystal thickness. We observe no significant differences due to the mineral surface (Ca surface vs OH surface) or due to the presence of water. Our result shows that the hydroxyapatite crystal with its thickness confined to the nanometer size efficiently increases the tensile modulus and strength of the collagen-hydroxyapatite composite, agreeing well with experimental observations that consistently show the existence of extremely thin mineral flakes in various types of bones. We also show that the collagen-hydroxyapatite interface can be modeled with an elastic network model which, based on the results of atomistic simulations, provides a good estimate of the surface energy and other mechanical features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1982-1992
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 31 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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