Macroscopic analogue to entangled polymers†
The entangled structure of polymeric materials is often described as resembling a bowl of spaghetti, swarms of earthworms, or snakes. These analogies not only illustrate the concept, but form the foundation of polymer physics. However, the similarity between these macroscopic, athermal systems and polymers in terms of topology remains uncertain. To better understand this relationship, we conducted an experiment using X-ray tomography to study the structure of arrays of linear rubber bands. We found that, similar to linear polymers, the average number of entanglements increases linearly with the length of the ribbons. Additionally, we observed that entanglements are less frequent near the surface of the container, where there are also more ends, similar to what has been seen in trapped polymers. These findings provide the first experimental evidence supporting the visualization of polymer structures using macroscopic, athermal analogues, confirming the initial intuitive insights of the pioneers of polymer physics.