In situ mechanical testing coupled with imaging using high-energy synchrotron X-ray diffraction or tomography is gaining in popularity as a technique to investigate micrometer and even sub-micrometer deformation and fracture mechanisms in mineralized tissues, such as bone and teeth. However, the role of the irradiation in affecting the nature and properties of the tissue is not always taken into account. Accordingly, we examine here the effect of X-ray synchrotron-source irradiation on the mechanistic aspects of deformation and fracture in human cortical bone. Specifically, the strength, ductility and fracture resistance (both work-of-fracture and resistance-curve fracture toughness) of human femoral bone in the transverse (breaking) orientation were evaluated following exposures to 0.05, 70, 210 and 630 kGrays (kGy) irradiation. Our results show that the radiation typically used in tomography imaging can have a major and deleterious impact on the strength, post-yield behavior and fracture toughness of cortical bone, with the severity of the effect progressively increasing with higher doses of radiation. Plasticity was essentially suppressed after as little as 70 kGy of radiation; the fracture toughness was decreased by a factor of five after 210 kGy of radiation. Mechanistically, the irradiation was found to alter the salient toughening mechanisms, manifest by the progressive elimination of the bone's capacity for plastic deformation which restricts the intrinsic toughening from the formation “plastic zones” around crack-like defects. Deep-ultraviolet Raman spectroscopy indicated that this behavior could be related to degradation in the collagen integrity.
Keywords: Human cortical bone; X-ray radiation; Deformation; Toughness; Collagen