Nacre, the inner layer of mollusk shells is a composite made of platelets of mineral aragonitic calcium carbonate with a few weight percent organic material sandwiched in between. The organic and nanostructural nuances are often suggested to be the reason for the extreme toughness of nacre. Here we report the presence of interlocks between platelets of nacre from red abalone. We also report and show, using three-dimensional finite element modeling, that interlocks are the key mechanism for the high toughness and strength of nacre. The observed rotation between platelet layers, which were earlier reported as defects of structure, are necessary for the formation of interlocks.
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