Resolving the Conflict between Strength and Toughness in Bioactive Silica–Polymer Hybrid Materials

Wei Fan, Tao Du, Aida Droce, Lars Rosgaard Jensen, Randall E. Youngman, Xiangting Ren, Leonid Gurevich, Mathieu Bauchy, Peter Kristensen, Bengang Xing, Donghong Yu*, Morten Mattrup Smedskjær*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Simultaneously improving the strength and toughness of materials is a major challenge. Inorganic-polymer hybrids offer the potential to combine mechanical properties of a stiff inorganic glass with a flexible organic polymer. However, the toughening mechanism at the atomic scale remains largely unknown. Based on combined experimental and molecular dynamics simulation results, we find that the deformation and fracture behavior of hybrids are governed by noncovalent intermolecular interactions between polymer and silica networks rather than the breakage of covalent bonds. We then attempt three methods to improve the balance between strength and toughness of hybrids, namely the total inorganic/organic (I/O) weight ratio, the size of silica nanoparticles, and the ratio of -C-O vs -C-C bonds in the polymer chains. Specifically, for a hybrid with matched silica size and I/O ratio, we demonstrate optimized mechanical properties in terms of strength (1.75 MPa at breakage), degree of elongation at the fracture point (31%), toughness (219 kPa), hardness (1.08 MPa), as well as Young's modulus (3.0 MPa). We also demonstrate that this hybrid material shows excellent biocompatibility and ability to support cell attachment as well as proliferation. This supports the possible application of this material as a strong yet tough bone scaffold material.

Original languageEnglish
JournalACS Nano
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)9748–9761
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2022


  • atomic-scale predicting
  • bioactive materials
  • silica-polymer hybrid
  • simulation
  • strength toughness balance


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