Growth of gas-filled penny-shaped cracks in decompressed hydrogels†
We report that the decompression of soft brittle materials can lead to the growth of internal gas-filled cracks. These cracks are oblate spheroids (‘penny shape’), whose major radius grows linearly in time, irreversibly fracturing the surrounding material. Our optical measurements in hydrogels characterise and quantify the three-dimensional crack geometry and growth rate. These results are in good agreement with our analytical model coupling fracture mechanics and gas diffusion, and predicting the dependence on the mechanical properties, gas diffusivity and super-saturation conditions (gas pressure, solubility, temperature). Our results suggest a new potential mechanism for decompression sickness in scuba diving and for indirect optical measurements of the fracture properties of hydrogels.