The Riggleman Group has published a new study in PNAS!
Advances in polymer chemistry over the last decade have enabled the synthesis of molecularly precise polymer networks that exhibit homogeneous structure. These precise polymer gels create the opportunity to establish true multiscale, molecular to macroscopic, relationships that define their elastic and failure properties. In this work, a theory of network fracture that accounts for loop defects is developed by drawing on recent advances in network elasticity. This loop-modified Lake–Thomas theory is tested against both molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and experimental fracture measurements on model gels, and good agreement between theory, which does not use an enhancement factor, and measurement is observed. Insight into the local and global contributions to energy dissipated during network failure and their relation to the bond dissociation energy is also provided. These findings enable a priori estimates of fracture energy in swollen gels where chain scission becomes an important failure mechanism.