Nondestructive characterization of soft materials and biofilms by measurement of guided elastic wave propagation using optical coherence elastography
Biofilms are soft multicomponent biological materials composed of microbial communities attached to surfaces. Despite the crucial relevance of biofilms to diverse industrial, medical, and environmental applications, the mechanical properties of biofilms are understudied. Moreover, most of the available techniques for the characterization of biofilm mechanical properties are destructive. Here, we detail a model-based approach developed to characterize the viscoelastic properties of soft materials and bacterial biofilms based on experimental data obtained using the nondestructive dynamic optical coherence elastography (OCE) technique. The model predicted the frequency- and geometry-dependent propagation velocities of elastic waves in a soft viscoelastic plate supported by a rigid substratum. Our numerical calculations suggest that the dispersion curves of guided waves recorded in thin soft plates by the dynamic OCE technique are dominated by guided waves, whose phase velocities depend on the viscoelastic properties and plate thickness. The numerical model was validated against experimental measurements in agarose phantom samples with different thicknesses and concentrations. The model was then used to interpret guided wave dispersion curves obtained by the OCE technique in bacterial biofilms developed in a rotating annular reactor, which allowed the quantitative characterization of biofilm shear modulus and viscosity. This study is the first to employ measurements of elastic wave propagation to characterize biofilms, and it provides a novel framework combining a theoretical model and an experimental approach for studying the relationship between the biofilm internal physical structure and mechanical properties.