Heussinger, Claus; Frey, Erwin
Role of architecture in the elastic response of semiflexible polymer and fiber networks.
In: Physical Review E, Vol. 75, No. 1: 011917-1-011917-14
We study the elasticity of cross-linked networks of thermally fluctuating stiff polymers. As compared to their purely mechanical counterparts, it is shown that these thermal networks have a qualitatively different elastic response. By accounting for the entropic origin of the single-polymer elasticity, the networks acquire a strong susceptibility to polydispersity and structural randomness that is completely absent in athermal models. In extensive numerical studies we systematically vary the architecture of the networks and identify a wealth of phenomena that clearly show the strong dependence of the emergent macroscopic moduli on the underlying mesoscopic network structure. In particular, we highlight the importance of the polymer length, which to a large extent controls the elastic response of the network, surprisingly, even in parameter regions where it does not enter the macroscopic moduli explicitly. Understanding these subtle effects is only possible by going beyond the conventional approach that considers the response of typical polymer segments only. Instead, we propose to describe the elasticity in terms of a typical polymer filament and the spatial distribution of cross-links along its backbone. We provide theoretical scaling arguments to relate the observed macroscopic elasticity to the physical mechanisms on the microscopic and mesoscopic scales.