From force-responsive molecules to quantifying and mapping stresses in soft materials

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Science Advances  15 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 20, eaaz5093
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz5093


Directly quantifying a spatially varying stress in soft materials is currently a great challenge. We propose a method to do that by detecting a change in visible light absorption. We incorporate a spiropyran (SP) force–activated mechanophore cross-linker in multiple-network elastomers. The random nature of the network structure of the polymer causes a progressive activation of the SP force probe with load, detectable by the change in color of the material. We first calibrate precisely the chromatic change in uniaxial tension. We then demonstrate that the nominal stress around a loaded crack can be detected for each pixel and that the measured values match quantitatively finite element simulations. This direct method to quantify stresses in soft materials with an internal force probe is an innovative tool that holds great potential to compare quantitatively stresses in different materials with simple optical observations.

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