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Necking and failure of a particulate gel strand: signatures of yielding on different length scales.

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"Sticky" spheres with a short-ranged attraction are a basic model of a wide range of materials from the atomic to the granular length scale. Among the complex phenomena exhibited by sticky spheres is the formation of far-from-equilibrium dynamically arrested networks which comprise "strands" of densely packed particles. The aging and failure of such gels under load is a remarkably challenging problem, given the simplicity of the model, as it involves multiple length- and time-scales, making a single approach ineffective. Here we tackle this challenge by addressing the failure of a single strand with a combination of methods. We study the mechanical response of a single strand of a model gel-former to deformation, both numerically and analytically. Under elongation, the strand breaks by a necking instability. We analyse this behaviour at three different length scales: a rheological continuum model of the whole strand; a microscopic analysis of the particle structure and dynamics; and the local stress tensor. Combining these different approaches gives a coherent picture of the necking and failure. The strand has an amorphous local structure and has large residual stresses from its initialisation. We find that neck formation is associated with increased plastic flow, a reduction in the stability of the local structure, and a reduction in the residual stresses; this indicates that the system loses its solid character and starts to behave more like a viscous fluid. These results will inform the development of more detailed models that incorporate the heterogeneous network structure of particulate gels.


Acknowledgements: We thank Daan Frenkel, Sylvain Patinet, Camille Scalliet, Amin Doostmohammadi, Abraham Mauleon-Amieva, Rui Cheng, and Malcolm Faers for helpful discussions. This work was supported by the EPSRC through grants EP/T031247/1 (KT and RLJ) and EP/T031077/1 (CPR and TBL). In the later stages of the project, KT also received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska Curie grant agreement no. 101029079.


3403 Macromolecular and Materials Chemistry, 40 Engineering, 34 Chemical Sciences

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Soft Matter

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Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
EPSRC (EP/T031247/1)
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