Obstructed swelling and fracture of hydrogels

Abigail Plummer, Caroline Adkins, Jean François Louf, Andrej Košmrlj, Sujit S. Datta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Obstructions influence the growth and expansion of bodies in a wide range of settings—but isolating and understanding their impact can be difficult in complex environments. Here, we study obstructed growth/expansion in a model system accessible to experiments, simulations, and theory: hydrogels swelling around fixed cylindrical obstacles with varying geometries. When the obstacles are large and widely-spaced, hydrogels swell around them and remain intact. In contrast, our experiments reveal that when the obstacles are narrow and closely-spaced, hydrogels fracture as they swell. We use finite element simulations to map the magnitude and spatial distribution of stresses that build up during swelling at equilibrium in a 2D model, providing a route toward predicting when this phenomenon of self-fracturing is likely to arise. Applying lessons from indentation theory, poroelasticity, and nonlinear continuum mechanics, we also develop a theoretical framework for understanding how the maximum principal tensile and compressive stresses that develop during swelling are controlled by obstacle geometry and material parameters. These results thus help to shed light on the mechanical principles underlying growth/expansion in environments with obstructions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1425-1437
Number of pages13
JournalSoft matter
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jan 22 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Condensed Matter Physics


Dive into the research topics of 'Obstructed swelling and fracture of hydrogels'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this