Nanoindentation is a popular technique for measuring the intrinsic mechanical response of bone and has been used to measure a single-valued elastic modulus. However, bone is a composite material with 20–80 nm hydroxyapatite plates embedded in a collagen matrix, and modern instrumentation allows for measurements at these small length scales. The present study examines the indentation response of bone and artificial gelatin-apatite nanocomposite materials across three orders of magnitude of lengthscale, from nanometers to micrometers, to isolate the composite phase contributions to the overall response. The load-displacement responses were variable and deviated from the quadratic response of homogeneous materials at small depths. The distribution of apparent elastic modulus values narrowed substantially with increasing indentation load. Indentation of particulate nanocomposites was simulated using finite element analysis. Modeling results replicated the convergence in effective modulus seen in the experiments. It appears that the apatite particles are acting as the continuous (“matrix”) phase in bone and nanocomposites.

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