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Random fiber networks with inclusions: The mechanism of reinforcement

Mohammad Refatul Islam's picture

The mechanical behavior of athermal random fiber networks embedding particulate inclusions is studied in this work. Composites in which the filler size is comparable with the mean segment length of the network are considered. Inclusions are randomly distributed in the network at various volume fractions, and cases in which fibers are rigidly bonded to fillers and in which no such bonding is imposed are studied separately. In the presence of inclusions, the small strain modulus increases, while the ability of the network to strain stiffen decreases relative to the unfilled network case. The reinforcement induced by fillers is most pronounced in sparse networks of floppier filaments that deform in the bending-dominated mode in the unfilled state. As the unfilled network density or the bending stiffness of fibers increases, the effect of filling diminishes rapidly. Fillers lead to a transition from the soft, bending-dominated, to the stiffer, stretching-dominated, deformation mode of the network, a transition which is primarily responsible for the observed overall reinforcement. The confinement, i.e., the restriction on network kinematics imposed by fillers, causes this transition. These results provide a justification for the observed difference in reinforcement obtained in sparsely versus densely cross-linked networks at a given filling fraction and provide guidance for the further development of network-based materials.



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