Anomalous scaling law of strength and toughness of cellulose nanopaper

HL Zhu and SZ Zhu and Z Jia and S Parvinian and YY Li and O Vaaland and LB Hu and T Li, PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 112, 8971-8976 (2015).

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502870112

The quest for both strength and toughness is perpetual in advanced material design; unfortunately, these two mechanical properties are generally mutually exclusive. So far there exists only limited success of attaining both strength and toughness, which often needs material- specific, complicated, or expensive synthesis processes and thus can hardly be applicable to other materials. A general mechanism to address the conflict between strength and toughness still remains elusive. Here we report a first-of-its-kind study of the dependence of strength and toughness of cellulose nanopaper on the size of the constituent cellulose fibers. Surprisingly, we find that both the strength and toughness of cellulose nanopaper increase simultaneously (40 and 130 times, respectively) as the size of the constituent cellulose fibers decreases (from a mean diameter of 27 mu m to 11 nm), revealing an anomalous but highly desirable scaling law of the mechanical properties of cellulose nanopaper: the smaller, the stronger and the tougher. Further fundamental mechanistic studies reveal that reduced intrinsic defect size and facile (re)formation of strong hydrogen bonding among cellulose molecular chains is the underlying key to this new scaling law of mechanical properties. These mechanistic findings are generally applicable to other material building blocks, and therefore open up abundant opportunities to use the fundamental bottom-up strategy to design a new class of functional materials that are both strong and tough.

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