Direct link between mechanical stability in gels and percolation of isostatic particles

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Science Advances  31 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaav6090
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav6090


Colloidal gels have unique mechanical and transport properties that stem from their bicontinuous nature, in which a colloidal network is intertwined with a viscous solvent, and have found numerous applications in foods, cosmetics, and construction materials and for medical applications, such as cartilage replacements. So far, our understanding of the process of colloidal gelation is limited to long-time dynamical effects, where gelation is viewed as a phase separation process interrupted by the glass transition. However, this purely out-of-equilibrium thermodynamic picture does not address the emergence of mechanical stability. With confocal microscopy experiments, we reveal that mechanical metastability is reached only after isotropic percolation of locally isostatic environments, establishing a direct link between the load-bearing ability of gels and the isostaticity condition. Our work suggests an operative description of gels based on mechanical equilibrium and isostaticity, providing the physical basis for the stability and rheology of these materials.

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