Natural stiffening increases flaw tolerance of biological fibers

T Giesa and NM Pugno and MJ Buehler, PHYSICAL REVIEW E, 86, 041902 (2012).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.86.041902

Many fibers in biomaterials such as tendon, elastin, or silk feature a nonlinear stiffening behavior of the stress-strain relationship, where the rigidity of the material increases severely as the material is being stretched. Here we show that such nonlinear stiffening is beneficial for a fiber's ability to withstand cracks, leading to a flaw tolerant state in which stress concentrations around cracks are diminished. Our findings, established by molecular mechanics and the derivation of a theoretical scaling law, explain experimentally observed fiber sizes in a range of biomaterials and point to the importance of nonlinear stiffening to enhance their fracture properties. Our study suggests that nonlinear stiffening provides a mechanism by which nanoscale mechanical properties can be scaled up, providing a means towards bioinspired fibrous material and structural design.

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