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How Materials Transform From Solids to Liquids

Researchers attempting to unify the physics that defines materials that transition from solids to liquids have seen years of meticulous experimentation pay off. Using a new theoretical model, the researchers claim they can better understand and predict civil engineering and environmental challenges such as mudslides, dam breaks, and avalanches, as well as help develop new synthetic materials.

Professor Simon Rogers of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign led the research team, which discovered a mathematical expression that describes how soft-yet-rigid materials transition from a solid state to a liquid flow when they exceed their specific stress threshold. The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications. The findings have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters, which you can find here.

It has traditionally been difficult to define the behavior of yield-stress fluids because the physics of two different types of materials have been attempted to be combined. "This is no longer the case," said lead author Krutarth Kamani, a graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois. We have demonstrated that these two physical states – solid and liquid – can coexist in the same material, and we have done so by using a single mathematical expression to explain how this is possible.

A rheometer was used to measure the individual solidlike and liquidlike strain responses of a variety of different soft materials in order to develop this model. The team conducted numerous studies in order to develop this model, including stressing and measuring a variety of different soft materials.

As a result of their research, Rogers and his colleagues were able to observe a material's behavior and observe a continuous transition between the solid and liquid states. Rogers is also an affiliate at the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. “The traditional models all describe an abrupt change in behavior from solid to liquid, but we were able to resolve two distinct behaviors that reflect energy dissipation via solid and fluid mechanisms.”

Scientists can now work with a straightforward model, which makes large-scale calculations like those required to model and predict catastrophic events like mudslides and avalanches easier to perform, according to the findings of the study.

As Rogers explained, "the existing models are computationally expensive, and researchers must wrestle with the numbers in order for the calculations to be as accurate as possible." "We have demonstrated through numerous proof-of-concept experiments that our model is simple and more accurate."

A hot topic for those looking into geophysical flows, waste remediation and industrial processes such as new materials development, 3D printing and the minimization of waste transport costs, according to the researchers is complex yield stress studies of fluids. "While our model defines a fundamental example of solid-to-liquid behavior, I believe it will serve as a useful starting point for researchers to make significant progress in defining the more complex yield-stress fluid phenomena," says the researcher.

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