Investigating the Morphology and Mechanics of Biogenic Hierarchical Materials at and below Micrometer Scale

Mohammad Soleimani, Sten J.J. van den Broek, Rick R.M. Joosten, Laura S. van Hazendonk, Sai P. Maddala, Lambert C.A. van Breemen, Rolf A.T.M. van Benthem (Corresponding author), Heiner Friedrich (Corresponding author)

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Investigating and understanding the intrinsic material properties of biogenic materials, which have evolved over millions of years into admirable structures with difficult to mimic hierarchical levels, holds the potential of replacing trial-and-error-based materials optimization in our efforts to make synthetic materials of similarly advanced complexity and properties. An excellent example is biogenic silica which is found in the exoskeleton of unicellular photosynthetic algae termed diatoms. Because of the complex micro-and nanostructures found in their exoskeleton, deter-mining the intrinsic mechanical properties of biosilica in diatoms has only partly been accomplished. Here, a general method is presented in which a combination of in situ deformation tests inside an SEM with a realistic 3D model of the frustule of diatom Craspedostauros sp. (C. sp.) obtained by electron tomography, alongside finite element method (FEM) simulations, enables quantification of the Young’s modulus (E = 2.3 ± 0.1 GPa) of this biogenic hierarchical silica. The workflow presented can be readily extended to other diatom species, biominerals, or even synthetic hierarchical materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1549
Number of pages11
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank Siyamak Parsa for his help with designing the graphical abstract. This research was carried out under project number C16033a in the framework of the Partnership Program of the Materials innovation institute M2i (, accessed on 1 February 2018) and the NWO Domain Science which is part of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (, accessed on 1 February 2018).

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by Materials Innovation Institute M2i and NWO Domain Science grant number C16033a.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • diatom frustule
  • electron tomography
  • hierarchical materials
  • in situ mechanical testing


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