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Droplet absorption and spreading into thin layers of polymer hydrogels

  • Etzold, MA
  • Fortune, GT
  • Landel, JR
  • Dalziel, SB
Publication Date
Jul 26, 2023
Apollo - University of Cambridge Repository
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<jats:p>From biological tissues to microactuators and absorption of solvents into layers of paint, macroscopically non-porous materials with the capacity to swell when in contact with a solvent are ubiquitous. In these systems, owing to strong solid–fluid interactions, chemically driven flows can yield large geometric changes. We study experimentally and theoretically the canonical problem of the swelling of a thin hydrogel layer by a single water drop. Using a bespoke experimental set-up, we observe fast absorption leading to a radially spreading axisymmetric blister. We use a fully three-dimensional linear poroelastic framework with nonlinear kinematic equations to obtain governing equations, which we then reduce with thin-layer scalings to a one-dimensional nonlinear diffusion equation for the evolution of the blister geometry. In the limits of large and small deformations, the evolution of the blister characteristic height and radius are self-similar, following power laws in time. Our experimental measurements show that the evolution of the blister is broadly within the theoretical predictions in the large and small deformation regimes. In the general intermediate deformation regime, the measurements are well captured by our reduced one-dimensional diffusion model, which does not require the sophisticated and computationally expensive numerical approaches necessary for the original two-dimensional nonlinear coupled transport problem. By adapting modelling techniques from the fluid dynamics of thin porous elastic layers to a polymer swelling problem, our modelling framework extends the range of polymer swelling problems that can be treated with semi-analytical methods. Moreover, our detailed experimental data can serve as a test case for future nonlinear poroelastic frameworks of swelling polymer materials.</jats:p>

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