Fatigue fracture of nearly elastic hydrogels
Polyacrylamide hydrogels are highly stretchable and nearly elastic. Their stress–stretch curves exhibit small hysteresis, and change negligibly after many loading cycles. Polyacrylamide is used extensively in applications, and is the primary network for many types of tough hydrogels. Recent experiments have shown that polyacrylamide hydrogels are susceptible to fatigue fracture, but available data are limited. Here we study fatigue fracture of polyacrylamide hydrogels of various water contents. We form polymer networks in all samples under the same conditions, and then obtain hydrogels of 96, 87, 78, and 69 wt% of water by solvent exchange. We measure the crack extension under cyclic loads, and the fracture energy under monotonic loading. For the hydrogels of the four water contents, the fatigue thresholds are 4.3, 8.4, 20.5, and 64.5 J m−2, and the fracture energies are 18.9, 71.2, 289, and 611 J m−2. The measured thresholds agree well with the predictions of the Lake-Thomas model for hydrogels of high water content, but not in the case of low water content. It is hoped that further basic studies will soon follow to aid the development of fatigue-resistant hydrogels.