A strain-stiffening material is a material that increases its stiffness in response to deformation. This behaviour is frequently found in nature to protect systems from destruction. For example, in cells strain-stiffening occurs by the cross-linking of cytoskeletal fibers upon external forces. Within the ERC project CELLINSPIRED we have developed a material where we mimic this biological behavior in a novel type of artificial strain-stiffening material, where comb-like structures touch each other, adhere, and thus increase the stiffness of the total material as a reaction to external shear force. It is very flexible in the choice of stiffness range and in the direction of strain-stiffening, and is easy to produce in a large variety of length scales (µm to cm) as well as in large quantities (patent application DE 10 2016 107 480.2 WO 2017/182024 A1, statuts “Notice of Intention to Grant”). This is of high interest in the field of orthotics, as the strain-stiffening protection mechanism is in our approach intrinsically located in the material and therefore does not require further chemical reagents. The work proposed here has the goal to validate our novel strain-stiffening material for the field of orthotics. The expected outcome of our project is to receive a prototype that (1) has well-defined strain-stiffening properties , (2) can be fabricated in different levels of complexity, (3) can easily be integrated into orthotic systems, and (4) can be fabricated using high-throughput processes. Our final goal is to license the patent to a company.
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