More information

Igor Zlotnikov Group

Thermodynamic and Nanomechanical aspects of Biomineralized Tissue Formation

Portrait Igor Zlotnikov


Living organisms form complex mineralized biocomposites that perform a variety of essential functions. These biomaterials are often multifunctional, being responsible for not only structural support and mechanical strength, but also provide optical, magnetic or sensing capabilities. The remarkable diversity in functionality is accomplished from a relatively narrow range of constituent inorganic materials. Hence, a significant effort has been directed to study the process of biomineralization – to understand how organisms assimilate elements from the environment and incorporate them into living tissues. This research is primarily concerned with chemical construction, synthesis and formation of highly ordered architectures and complex morphologies under strict biological control. Many studies have emphasized the complexity of biochemical mechanisms in charge of the delicate equilibrium and interaction chemistry between inorganic precursors and macromolecular components leading to nucleation, assembly and growth of different biominerals. In contrast, thermodynamic constraints, governing the microstructure formation, growth kinetics and the morphology of the mineralized tissue leading to a specific functionality are much less understood. My recent work showed that, in some cases, the biological organism which regulates mineral formation is not controlling its shape evolution beyond setting the necessary thermodynamic boundary conditions. Most importantly, I have demonstrated that in these cases, microstructure formation is analytically defined and can be quantitatively described both in time and in space.

Structural, biochemical and functional characterization of biomaterials is a challenging task that requires implementation of state-of-the-art techniques from a large spectrum of fields in life and physical sciences. Since primary function of biomineralized tissues is mechanical strength and structural support, the field of nanomechanical characterization of biomaterials has become a major area of research providing inspiration for the design of lite and robust synthetic materials. However, due to the structural complexity of naturally occurring composites and their intrinsic time, temperature and humidity dependent behavior, their mechanical characterization is still a major challenge. My recent work was successful in introducing and developing novel techniques with the unique ability to investigate environmentally dependent static and dynamic mechanical properties with high spatial resolution.

Igor Zlotnikov Research: Figure
Figure: A 3D microtomography reconstruction of a representative segment of a prismatic layer in the shell Pinna nobilis. Credit: I. Zlotnikov

Future Projects and Goals

The research group aims to:

  • address the fundamental question of how nature takes advantage of thermodynamic principles to generate complex morphologies and to study the interplay between physics of materials and cellular control in this process
  • resolve and understand the mechanisms of time, temperature and humidity dependent elastic and viscoelastic response of naturally occurring functional composite systems

The study is focused on calcium carbonate and silica based biomineralized nanostructured tissues in marine organisms, found in shells and sponges, respectively

Methodological and Technical Expertise

  • Synchrotron and electron microscopy based nano- and microtomography
  • Synchrotron based SAXS/WAXS and single crystal diffraction analysis
  • Static and dynamic nanomechanical characterization (nanoindentation, modulus mapping, nanoDMA)


Group Leader, B CUBE Center and Department of Chemistry, Dresden University of Technology (Germany)

Independent Researcher, Max-Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Department of Biomaterials, Research Campus Golm, Potsdam, Germany

Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Max-Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Department of Biomaterials, Research Campus Golm, Potsdam, Germany

Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering, Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel

Selected Publications

B. Bar-On, B. Bayerlein, H. Blumtritt and I. Zlotnikov*
Static and dynamic response of a single interface in a biocomposite structure
Phys. Rev. Lett. accepted (2015)

I. Zlotnikov*, P. Werner, E. Zolotoyabko, and P. Fratzl
Dislocation-induced Eshelby twist in a perfectly ordered protein/silica structure grown by a simple organism
Small 11(42), 5636–5641 (2015)

B. Bayerlein, P. Zaslansky, Y. Dauphin. A. Rack, P. Fratzl and I. Zlotnikov*
Self-similar mesostructure evolution of the growing mollusc shell reminiscent of thermodynamically driven grain growth
Nat. Mater. 13 (12), 1102–1107 (2014)

I. Zlotnikov*, P. Werner, H. Blumtritt, A. Graff, Y. Dauphin, E. Zolotoyabko, and P. Fratzl
A perfectly periodic three-dimensional protein/silica mesoporous structure produced by an organism
Adv. Mater. 26 (1), 1682–1687 (2014)

I. Zlotnikov*, P. Fratzl and E. Zolotoyabko
Nanoscale elastic modulus mapping revisited: The concept of effective mass
J. Appl. Phys. 116 (11), 114308 (2014)


B CUBE – Center for Molecular Bioengineering
TU Dresden
Tatzberg 41
01307 Dresden