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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Theoretical studies of chemo-mechanical instabilities in soft materials: self generation of rhythms and forms


Chemical dissipative structures have played a key role in the development of self-organization science. Our objective is to go beyond the well-known reaction-diffusion instabilities, to a new class of patterns and autonomous motions driven by chemical energy in active soft materials. They result from chemo-mechanical instabilities emerging from the coupling of chemical kinetics with shape changes induced by the chemical concentration field in deformable soft porous media, used as support for the reaction.

The necessary non-linearities originate either from the chemical kinetics or from the geometric response of the material to the concentration of some chemical species. In Bordeaux, recent experiments, which couple an acid autocatalytic reaction to a pH-responsive gel, evidence new sources of instabilities triggered by mutual feedback between the gel size and the chemical processes. A comprehensive model accounting for the transport, for reaction, and for the distributed mechanical properties of a responsive gel is still lacking.

The derivation and numerical investigation of such a model are our main objectives. Chemo-mechanical systems may be used as delivery devices, pumps working with the energy from their environment, or as autonomous valves, sensing the concentration of specific molecules and triggering an active response. The search for chemo-mechanical instabilities is also expected to enlighten phenomena in living organisms by bringing new insights in embryo self-shaping, active response of tissues to mechanical stress, or in some forms of motility. This proposal can make a major step in understanding chemomechanical instabilities, a new field at the interface between non-linear physical chemistry, soft matter, and biomimetics.

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