Curvature-driven instabilities in thin active shells.
Spontaneous material shape changes, such as swelling, growth or thermal expansion, can be used to trigger dramatic elastic instabilities in thin shells. These instabilities originate in geometric incompatibility between the preferred extrinsic and intrinsic curvature of the shell, which may be modified by active deformations through the thickness and in plane, respectively. Here, we solve the simplest possible model of such instabilities, which assumes the shells are shallow, thin enough to bend but not stretch, and subject to homogeneous preferred curvatures. We consider separately the cases of zero, positive and negative Gauss curvature. We identify two types of supercritical symmetry-breaking instability, in which the shell's principal curvature spontaneously breaks discrete up/down symmetry and continuous planar isotropy. These are then augmented by inversion instabilities, in which the shell jumps subcritically between up/down broken symmetry states and rotation instabilities, in which the curvatures rotate by 90° between states of broken isotropy without release of energy. Each instability has a thickness-independent threshold value for the preferred extrinsic curvature proportional to the square root of Gauss curvature. Finally, we show that the threshold for the isotropy-breaking instability is the same for deep spherical caps, in good agreement with recently published data.