Directed aging, memory, and nature’s greed

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Science Advances  20 Dec 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 12, eaax4215
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax4215


Disordered materials are often out of equilibrium and evolve very slowly in a rugged and tortuous energy landscape. This slow evolution, referred to as aging, is deemed undesirable as it often leads to material degradation. However, we show that aging also encodes a memory of the stresses imposed during preparation. Because of inhomogeneous local stresses, the material itself decides how to evolve by modifying stressed regions differently from those under less stress. Because material evolution occurs in response to stresses, aging can be “directed” to produce sought-after responses and unusual functionalities that do not inherently exist. Aging obeys a natural “greedy algorithm” as, at each instant, the material simply follows the path of most rapid and accessible relaxation. Our experiments and simulations illustrate directed aging in examples in which the material’s elasticity transforms as desired because of an imposed deformation.

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