Hydraulic fracture and toughening of epithelial cell monolayers

Summary

Brittle materials propagate opening cracks under tension. When stress increases beyond a critical magnitude, then quasi-static crack propagation becomes unstable. In the presence of several pre-cracks, a brittle material always propagates only the weakest crack, leading to catastrophic failure. Here, we show that all these features of brittle fracture are fundamentally modified when the material susceptible to cracking is bonded to a hydrogel, a common situation in biological tissues. In the presence of the hydrogel, the brittle material can fracture in compression and can hydraulically resist cracking in tension. Furthermore, the poroelastic coupling regularizes the crack dynamics and enhances material toughness by promoting multiple cracking.

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