Using Drying to Heal Cracks in Soft Materials

Location

Frist Theatre
Drying-induced cracking that originates from the shrinking of materials compromises the integrity of structural materials, coatings and geological formations. Ways to control crack formation, or even to heal existing cracks, are lacking. However, we have come to understand and control cracking behavior in a simplified system. We dried droplets of water containing deformable, shrinkable particles and observed their cracking behavior. We found that tailoring the drying profile enables the control of crack formation and even can promote cracks to spontaneously close up or heal. Moreover, we found that this behavior can be predicted using ideas from linear elasticity and fracture mechanics. Ultimately, the insights gained from our work pave a way to better manage drying-induced cracks in engineering applications.