The mechanical response of cellular materials with spinodal topologies

M. T. Hsieh; B. Endo; Y. Zhang; J. Bauer; L. Valdevit

Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids 125 (2019) 401-419

The mechanical response of cellular materials with spinodal topologies is numerically and experimentally investigated. Spinodal microstructures are generated by the numerical solution of the Cahn-Hilliard equation. Two different topologies are investigated: ‘solid models,’ where one of the two phases is modeled as a solid material and the remaining volume is void space; and ‘shell models,’ where the interface between the two phases is assumed to be a solid shell, with the rest of the volume modeled as void space. In both cases, a wide range of relative densities and spinodal characteristic feature sizes are investigated. The topology and morphology of all the numerically generated models are carefully characterized to extract key geometrical features and ensure that the distribution of curvatures and the aging law are consistent with the physics of spinodal decomposition. Finite element meshes are generated for each model, and the uniaxial compressive stiffness and strength are extracted. We show that while solid spinodal models in the density range of 30–70% are relatively inefficient (i.e., their strength and stiffness exhibit a high-power scaling with relative density), shell spinodal models in the density range of 0.01–1% are exceptionally stiff and strong. Spinodal shell materials are also shown to be remarkably imperfection insensitive. These findings are verified experimentally by in-situ uniaxial compression of polymeric samples printed at the microscale by Direct Laser Writing (DLW). At low relative densities, the strength and stiffness of shell spinodal models outperform those of most lattice materials and approach theoretical bounds for isotropic cellular materials. Most importantly, these materials can be produced by self-assembly techniques over a range of length scales, providing unique scalability.