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Toughening Elastomers with Sacrificial Bonds and Watching Them Break

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Science  11 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6180, pp. 186-189
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248494

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Toughening Up Elastomers

Elastomers are soft polymer materials widely used in industry and daily life. Inspired by recent work on double-network hydrogels, Ducrot et al. (p. 186; see the Perspective by Gong) designed interpenetrated network elastomers that contained isotropically prestretched chains as the first network. Double- and triple-network structures yielded elastomers with very high strength and toughness in comparison with the corresponding single networks.

Abstract

Elastomers are widely used because of their large-strain reversible deformability. Most unfilled elastomers suffer from a poor mechanical strength, which limits their use. Using sacrificial bonds, we show how brittle, unfilled elastomers can be strongly reinforced in stiffness and toughness (up to 4 megapascals and 9 kilojoules per square meter) by introducing a variable proportion of isotropically prestretched chains that can break and dissipate energy before the material fails. Chemoluminescent cross-linking molecules, which emit light as they break, map in real time where and when many of these internal bonds break ahead of a propagating crack. The simple methodology that we use to introduce sacrificial bonds, combined with the mapping of where bonds break, has the potential to stimulate the development of new classes of unfilled tough elastomers and better molecular models of the fracture of soft materials.

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