What is it about?

Though soft materials such as clays, emulsions, and tissues look stationary to the naked eye, a magnified view into the building blocks of these materials reveals a world full of motion. The constant microscopic rearrangement of sub-units within these materials plays an important role in dictating the physical properties we are familiar with in these materials, such as their deformability and reconfigurability under mechanical deformations. In this work, we study the microscopic rearrangement of particles within a model soft material, and show that these building blocks exhibit intermittent motion (in the same vein as avalanches and earthquakes), even under small mechanical perturbations.

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Why is it important?

Soft materials are usually characterized by a disordered arrangement of building blocks which are held together with weak interactions. The complexity of this structure makes it challenging to understand and predict the properties of soft materials. This work helps us better understand the basic dynamical laws governing soft materials under stationary and mechanically perturbed conditions, which can improve our understanding of soft materials in nature, and our ability to design soft materials for technology.

Perspectives

The mechanical response of soft materials has remained challenging to understand, despite decades of research. This work sheds new information on the microscopic origins of this response, which we hope will stimulate new research in this area.

Jake Song
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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This page is a summary of: Microscopic dynamics underlying the stress relaxation of arrested soft materials, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2201566119.
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