Effects of strain-dependent surface stress on the adhesive contact of a rigid sphere to a compliant substrate†
Recent experiments have reported that the surface stress of soft elastic solids can increase rapidly with surface strain. For example, when a small hard sphere in adhesive contact with a soft silicone gel is slowly retracted from its rest position, it was found that the retraction force versus displacement relation cannot be explained either by the Johnson–Kendall–Roberts (JKR) theory or a recent indentation theory based on an isotropic surface stress that is independent of surface strain. In this paper, we address this problem using a finite element method to simulate the retraction process. Our numerical model does not have the restrictions of the aforementioned theories; that is, it can handle large nonlinear elastic deformation as well as a surface-strain-dependent surface stress. Our simulation is in good agreement with experimental force versus displacement data with no fitting parameters. Therefore, our results lend further support to the claim that significant strain-dependent surface stresses can occur in simple soft elastic gels. However, significant challenges remain in the reconciliation of theory and experiments, particularly regarding the geometry of the contact and substrate deformation.