Stress and Fold Localization in Thin Elastic Membranes

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Science  16 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5878, pp. 912-916
DOI: 10.1126/science.1154069

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Thin elastic membranes supported on a much softer elastic solid or a fluid deviate from their flat geometries upon compression. We demonstrate that periodic wrinkling is only one possible solution for such strained membranes. Folds, which involve highly localized curvature, appear whenever the membrane is compressed beyond a third of its initial wrinkle wavelength. Eventually the surface transforms into a symmetry-broken state with flat regions of membrane coexisting with locally folded points, reminiscent of a crumpled, unsupported membrane. We provide general scaling laws for the wrinkled and folded states and proved the transition with numerical and experimental supported membranes. Our work provides insight into the interfacial stability of such diverse systems as biological membranes such as lung surfactant and nanoparticle thin films.

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