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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2025
  2. At zero temperature, spring networks with connectivity below Maxwell's isostatic threshold undergo a mechanical phase transition from a floppy state at small strains to a rigid state for applied shear strain above a critical strain threshold. Disordered networks in the floppy mechanical regime can be stabilized by entropic effects at finite temperature. We develop a scaling theory for this mechanical phase transition at finite temperature, yielding relationships between various scaling exponents. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we verify these scaling relations and identify anomalous entropic elasticity with sublinear 𝑇 dependence in the linear elastic regime. While our results are consistent with prior studies of phase behavior near the isostatic point, the present work also makes predictions relevant to the broad class of disordered thermal semiflexible polymer networks for which the connectivity generally lies far below the isostatic threshold. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  3. Networks of stiff fibers govern the elasticity of biological structures such as the extracellular matrix of collagen.These networks are known to stiffen nonlinearly under shear or extensional strain. Recently, it has been shown that such stiffening is governed by a strain-controlled athermal but critical phase transition, from a floppy phase below the critical strain to a rigid phase above the critical strain. While this phase transition has been extensively studied numerically and experimentally, a complete analytical theory for this transition remains elusive. Here, we present an effective medium theory (EMT) for this mechanical phase transition of fiber networks. We extend a previous EMT appropriate for linear elasticity to incorporate nonlinear effects via an anharmonic Hamiltonian. The mean-field predictions of this theory, including the critical exponents, scaling relations and non-affine fluctuations qualitatively agree with previous experimental and numerical results. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  4. Contractility in animal cells is often generated by molecular motors such as myosin, which require polar substrates for their function. Motivated by recent experimental evidence of motor-independent contractility, we propose a robust motor-free mechanism that can generate contraction in biopolymer networks without the need for substrate polarity. We show that contractility is a natural consequence of active binding-unbinding of crosslinkers that breaks the principle of detailed balance, together with the asymmetric force-extension response of semiflexible biopolymers. We have extended our earlier work to discuss the motor-free contraction of viscoelastic biopolymer networks. We calculate the resulting contractile velocity using a microscopic model and show that it can be reduced to a simple coarse-grained model under certain limits. Our model may provide an explanation of recent reports of motor-independent contractility in cells. Our results also suggest a mechanism for generating contractile forces in synthetic active materials. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  5. Networks and dense suspensions frequently reside near a boundary between soft (or fluidlike) and rigid (or solidlike) regimes. Transitions between these regimes can be driven by changes in structure, density, or applied stress or strain. In general, near the onset or loss of rigidity in these systems, dissipation-limiting heterogeneous nonaffine rearrangements dominate the macroscopic viscoelastic response, giving rise to diverging relaxation times and power-law rheology. Here, we describe a simple quantitative relationship between nonaffinity and the excess viscosity. We test this nonaffinity-viscosity relationship computationally and demonstrate its rheological consequences in simulations of strained filament networks and dense suspensions. We also predict critical signatures in the rheology of semiflexible and stiff biopolymer networks near the strain stiffening transition. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024