A novel method to determine the elastic modulus of extremely soft materials
Determination of the elastic moduli of extremely soft materials that may deform under their own weight is a rather difficult experimental task. A new method has been elaborated by means of which the elastic modulus of such materials can be determined. This method is generally applicable to all soft materials with purely neo-Hookean elastic deformation behaviour with elastic moduli lower than 1 kPa. Our novel method utilises the self-deformation of pendent gel cylinders under gravity. When suspended, the material at the very top bears the weight of the entire gel cylinder, but that at the bottom carries no load at all. Due to the non-uniform stress distribution along the gel sample both the stress and the resulting strain show position dependence. The cross-sectional area of the material is lowest at the top of the sample and gradually increases towards its bottom. The equilibrium geometry of the pendant gel is used to evaluate the elastic modulus. Experimental data obtained by the proposed new method were compared to the results obtained from underwater measurements. The parameters affecting the measurement uncertainty were studied by a Pareto analysis of a series of adaptive Monte Carlo simulations. It has been shown that our method provides an easily achievable method to provide an accurate determination of the elastic modulus of extremely soft matter typically applicable for moduli below 1 kPa.