Tensile and Viscoelastic Behavior in Nacre-Inspired Nanocomposites: A Coarse-Grained Molecular Dynamics Study

PP Singh and R Ranganathan, NANOMATERIALS, 12, 3333 (2022).

DOI: 10.3390/nano12193333

Organisms hold an extraordinarily evolutionary advantage in forming complex, hierarchical structures across different length scales that exhibit superior mechanical properties. Mimicking these structures for synthesizing high-performance materials has long held a fascination and has seen rapid growth in the recent past thanks to high-resolution microscopy, design, synthesis, and testing methodologies. Among the class of natural materials, nacre, found in mollusk shells, exhibits remarkably high mechanical strength and toughness. The highly organized "brick and mortar" structure at different length scales is a basis for excellent mechanical properties and the capability to dissipate energy and propagation in nacre. Here, we employ large-scale atomistic coarse- grained molecular dynamics simulations to study the mechanical and viscoelastic behavior of nacre-like microstructures. Uniaxial tension and oscillatory shear simulations were performed to gain insight into the role of complex structure-property relationships. Specifically, the role played by the effect of microstructure (arrangement of the crystalline domain) and polymer-crystal interactions on the mechanical and viscoelastic behavior is elucidated. The tensile property of the nanocomposite was seen to be sensitive to the microstructure, with a staggered arrangement of the crystalline tablets giving rise to a 20-30% higher modulus and lower tensile strength compared to a columnar arrangement. Importantly, the staggered microstructure is shown to have a highly tunable mechanical behavior with respect to the polymer-crystal interactions. The underlying reasons for the mechanical behavior are explained by showing the effect of polymer chain mobility and orientation and the load-carrying capacity for the constituents. Viscoelastic responses in terms of the storage and loss moduli and loss tangent are studied over three decades in frequency and again highlight the differences brought about by the microstructure. We show that our coarse-grained models offer promising insights into the design of novel biomimetic structures for structural applications.

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