skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 10:00 PM ET on Friday, December 8 until 2:00 AM ET on Saturday, December 9 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

This content will become publicly available on August 1, 2024

Title: Bioinspired Fiber Networks With Tunable Mechanical Properties by Additive Manufacturing
Abstract Soft bioinspired fiber networks offer great potential in biomedical engineering and material design due to their adjustable mechanical behaviors. However, existing strategies to integrate modeling and manufacturing of bioinspired networks do not consider the intrinsic microstructural disorder of biopolymer networks, which limits the ability to tune their mechanical properties. To fill in this gap, we developed a method to generate computer models of aperiodic fiber networks mimicking type I collagen ready to be submitted for additive manufacturing. The models of fiber networks were created in a scripting language wherein key geometric features like connectivity, fiber length, and fiber cross section could be easily tuned to achieve desired mechanical behavior, namely, pretension-induced shear stiffening. The stiffening was first predicted using finite element software, and then a representative network was fabricated using a commercial 3D printer based on digital light processing technology using a soft resin. The stiffening response of the fabricated network was verified experimentally on a novel test device capable of testing the shear stiffness of the specimen under varying levels of uniaxial pretension. The resulting data demonstrated clear pretension-induced stiffening in shear in the fabricated network, with uniaxial pretension of 40% resulting in a factor of 2.65 increase in the small strain shear stiffness. The strategy described in this article addresses current challenges in modeling bioinspired fiber networks and can be readily integrated with advances in fabrication technology to fabricate materials truly replicating the mechanical response of biopolymer networks.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Applied Mechanics
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Fiber networks are the primary structural components of many biological structures, including the cell cytoskeleton and the extracellular matrix. These materials exhibit global nonlinearities, such as stiffening in extension and shear, during which the fibers bend and align with the direction of applied loading. Precise details of deformations at the scale of the fibers during strain stiffening are still lacking, however, as prior work has studied fiber alignment primarily from a qualitative perspective, which leaves incomplete the understanding of how the local microstructural evolution leads to the global mechanical behavior. To fill this gap, we studied how axial forces are transmitted inside the fiber network along paths called force chains, which continuously evolve during the course of deformation. We performed numerical simulations on two-dimensional networks of random fibers under uniaxial extension and shear, modeling the fibers using beam elements in finite element software. To quantify the force chains, we identified all chains of connected fibers for which the axial force was larger than a preset threshold and computed the total length of all such chains. To study the evolution of force chains during loading, we computed the derivative of the total length of all force chains with respect to the applied engineering strain. Results showed that the highest rate of evolution of force chains coincided with the global critical strain for strain stiffening of the fiber network. Therefore, force chains are an important factor connecting understanding of the local kinematics and force transmission to the macroscale stiffness of the fiber network. 
    more » « less
  2. Both animal and plant tissue exhibit a nonlinear rheological phenomenon known as compression stiffening, or an increase in moduli with increasing uniaxial compressive strain. Does such a phenomenon exist in single cells, which are the building blocks of tissues? One expects an individual cell to compression soften since the semiflexible biopolymer-based cytoskeletal network maintains the mechanical integrity of the cell and in vitro semiflexible biopolymer networks typically compression soften. To the contrary, we find that mouse embryonic fibroblasts (mEFs) compression stiffen under uniaxial compression via atomic force microscopy studies. To understand this finding, we uncover several potential mechanisms for compression stiffening. First, we study a single semiflexible polymer loop modeling the actomyosin cortex enclosing a viscous medium modeled as an incompressible fluid. Second, we study a two-dimensional semiflexible polymer/fiber network interspersed with area-conserving loops, which are a proxy for vesicles and fluid-based organelles. Third, we study two-dimensional fiber networks with angular-constraining crosslinks, i.e. semiflexible loops on the mesh scale. In the latter two cases, the loops act as geometric constraints on the fiber network to help stiffen it via increased angular interactions. We find that the single semiflexible polymer loop model agrees well with the experimental cell compression stiffening finding until approximately 35% compressive strain after which bulk fiber network effects may contribute. We also find for the fiber network with area-conserving loops model that the stress–strain curves are sensitive to the packing fraction and size distribution of the area-conserving loops, thereby creating a mechanical fingerprint across different cell types. Finally, we make comparisons between this model and experiments on fibrin networks interlaced with beads as well as discuss implications for single cell compression stiffening at the tissue scale. 
    more » « less
  3. We study the effect of inter-fiber adhesion on the mechanical behavior of cross-linked ran- dom fiber networks in two dimensions. To this end, we consider networks with connectiv- ity number, z , below, at, and above the isostaticity limit of the structure without adhesion, z c . Fibers store energy in the axial and bending deformation mode and the cross-links are of freely rotating type. Adhesive forces lead to fiber bundling and to a reduction of the total volume of the network. The degree of shrinkage is determined as a function of the strength of adhesion and network parameters. The mechanical response of these struc- tures is further studied in uniaxial tension and compression. The stress-strain curves of networks without inter-fiber adhesion exhibit an initial linear regime, followed by strain stiffening in tension and strain softening and strain localization in compression. In pres- ence of adhesion, the response becomes more complex. The initial linear regime persists, with the effective modulus decreasing and increasing with increasing adhesion in cases with z > z c and z < z c , respectively. The strain range of the linear regime increases signif- icantly with increasing adhesion. Networks with z > z c subjected to tension strain-stiffen at rates that depend on the adhesion strength, but eventually enter a large strain/stress regime in which the response is independent of this parameter. Networks with z < z c are stabilized by adhesion in the unloaded state. Beyond the initial linear regime their tangent modulus gradually decreases, only to increase again at large strains. Adhesive interactions lead to similar effects in compression. Specifically, in the z > z c case, increasing the adhe- sion strength reduces the linear elastic modulus and significantly increases the range of the linear regime, delaying strain localization. This first investigation of the mechanics of cross-linked random networks with inter-fiber adhesion opens the door to the design of soft materials with novel properties. 
    more » « less
  4. Tissues commonly consist of cells embedded within a fibrous biopolymer network. Whereas cell-free reconstituted biopolymer networks typically soften under applied uniaxial compression, various tissues, including liver, brain, and fat, have been observed to instead stiffen when compressed. The mechanism for this compression-stiffening effect is not yet clear. Here, we demonstrate that when a material composed of stiff inclusions embedded in a fibrous network is compressed, heterogeneous rearrangement of the inclusions can induce tension within the interstitial network, leading to a macroscopic crossover from an initial bending-dominated softening regime to a stretching-dominated stiffening regime, which occurs before and independently of jamming of the inclusions. Using a coarse-grained particle-network model, we first establish a phase diagram for compression-driven, stretching-dominated stress propagation and jamming in uniaxially compressed two- and three-dimensional systems. Then, we demonstrate that a more detailed computational model of stiff inclusions in a subisostatic semiflexible fiber network exhibits quantitative agreement with the predictions of our coarse-grained model as well as qualitative agreement with experiments.

    more » « less
  5. While cells within tissues generate and sense 3D states of strain, the current understanding of the mechanics of fibrous extracellular matrices (ECMs) stems mainly from uniaxial, biaxial, and shear tests. Here, we demonstrate that the multiaxial deformations of fiber networks in 3D cannot be inferred solely based on these tests. The interdependence of the three principal strains gives rise to anomalous ratios of biaxial to uniaxial stiffness between 8 and 9 and apparent Poisson’s ratios larger than 1. These observations are explained using a microstructural network model and a coarse-grained constitutive framework that predicts the network Poisson effect and stress–strain responses in uniaxial, biaxial, and triaxial modes of deformation as a function of the microstructural properties of the network, including fiber mechanics and pore size of the network. Using this theoretical approach, we found that accounting for the Poisson effect leads to a 100-fold increase in the perceived elastic stiffness of thin collagen samples in extension tests, reconciling the seemingly disparate measurements of the stiffness of collagen networks using different methods. We applied our framework to study the formation of fiber tracts induced by cellular forces. In vitro experiments with low-density networks showed that the anomalous Poisson effect facilitates higher densification of fibrous tracts, associated with the invasion of cancerous acinar cells. The approach developed here can be used to model the evolving mechanics of ECM during cancer invasion and fibrosis.

    more » « less