Extreme cavity expansion in soft solids: Damage without fracture

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Science Advances  27 Mar 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 13, eaaz0418
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz0418


Cavitation is a common damage mechanism in soft solids. Here, we study this using a phase separation technique in stretched, elastic solids to controllably nucleate and grow small cavities by several orders of magnitude. The ability to make stable cavities of different sizes, as well as the huge range of accessible strains, allows us to systematically study the early stages of cavity expansion. Cavities grow in a scale-free manner, accompanied by irreversible bond breakage that is distributed around the growing cavity rather than being localized to a crack tip. Furthermore, cavities appear to grow at constant driving pressure. This has strong analogies with the plasticity that occurs surrounding a growing void in ductile metals. In particular, we find that, although elastomers are normally considered as brittle materials, small-scale cavity expansion is more like a ductile process. Our results have broad implications for understanding and controlling failure in soft solids.

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