Bone is one of nature's surprising "building materials." Pound-for-pound it's stronger than steel, tough yet resilient. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory have identified the composition that gives bone its outstanding properties and the important role citrate plays, work that may help science better understand and treat or prevent bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, Ames Laboratory scientist and Iowa State University chemistry professor Klaus Schmidt-Rohr and his colleagues studied bone, an organic-inorganic nanocomposite whose stiffness is provided by thin nanocrystals of carbonated apatite, a calcium phosphate, imbedded in an organic matrix of mostly collagen, a fibrous protein.
By understanding the nanostructure of naturally occurring materials, researchers may be able to develop new light-weight, high-strength materials that will require less energy to manufacture and that could make the products in which they are used more energy efficient.