Drying-induced cavitation in a constrained hydrogel
Cavitation can be often observed in soft materials. Most previous studies were focused on cavitation in an elastomer, which is under different mechanical loadings. In this paper, we investigate cavitation in a constrained hydrogel induced by drying. Taking account of surface tension and chemo-mechanics of gels, we calculate the free energy of the system as a function of cavity size. The free energy landscape shows a double-well structure, analogous to first-order phase transition. Above the critical humidity, a cavity inside the gel is tiny. Below the critical humidity, the size of the cavity is large. At the critical humidity, the cavity size grows suddenly and discontinuously. We further show that local large stretches can be induced in the gel during the drying process, which may result in fractures.