Chicken Eggs are Functionally Graded Materials
Avian (and formerly dinosaur) eggshells form a hard, protective biomineralized chamber for embryonic growth—an evolutionary strategy that has existed for hundreds of millions of years. We show in the calcitic chicken eggshell how the mineral and organic phases organize hierarchically across different length scales and how variation in nanostructure across the shell thickness modifies its hardness, elastic modulus, and dissolution properties. We also show that the nanostructure changes during egg incubation, weakening the shell for chick hatching. Nanostructure and increased hardness were reproduced in synthetic calcite crystals grown in the presence of the prominent eggshell protein osteopontin. These results demonstrate the contribution of nanostructure to avian eggshell formation, mechanical properties, and dissolution.