Mechanics of soft composites of rods in elastic gels

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Abstract

We report detailed theoretical investigations of the micromechanics and bulk elastic properties of composites consisting of randomly distributed stiff fibers embedded in an elastic matrix in two and three dimensions. Recent experiments have suggested that the inclusion of stiff microtubules in a softer, nearly incompressible biopolymer matrix can lead to emergent compressibility. This can be understood in terms of the enhancement of the compressibility of the composite relative to its shear compliance as a result of the addition of stiff rodlike inclusions. We show that the Poisson's ratio ν of such a composite evolves with increasing rod density toward a particular value, or fixed point, independent of the material properties of the matrix, as long as it has a finite initial compressibility. This fixed point is ν=1/4 in three dimensions and ν=1/3 in two dimensions. Our results suggest an important role for stiff filaments such as microtubules and stress fibers in cell mechanics. At the same time, our work has a wider elasticity context, with potential applications to composite elastic media with a wide separation of scales in stiffness of its constituents such as carbon nanotube-polymer composites, which have been shown to have highly tunable mechanics. © 2011 American Physical Society.
Original languageEnglish
Article number061906
Pages (from-to)061906
Number of pages9
JournalPhysical Review E
Volume84
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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