The geometry of incompatibility in growing soft tissues: Theory and numerical characterization

Taeksang Lee*, Maria A. Holland, Johannes Weickenmeier, Arun K. Gosain, Adrian Buganza Tepole

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tissues in vivo are not stress-free. As we grow, our tissues adapt to different physiological and disease conditions through growth and remodeling. This adaptation occurs at the microscopic scale, where cells control the microstructure of their immediate extracellular environment to achieve homeostasis. The local and heterogeneous nature of this process is the source of residual stresses. At the macroscopic scale, growth and remodeling can be accurately captured with the finite volume growth framework within continuum mechanics, which is akin to plasticity. The multiplicative split of the deformation gradient into growth and elastic contributions brings about the notion of incompatibility as a plausible description for the origin of residual stress. Here we define the geometric features that characterize incompatibility in biological materials. We introduce the geometric incompatibility tensor for different growth types, showing that the constraints associated with growth lead to specific patterns of the incompatibility metrics. To numerically investigate the distribution of incompatibility measures, we implement the analysis within a finite element framework. Simple, illustrative examples are shown first to explain the main concepts. Then, numerical characterization of incompatibility and residual stress is performed on three biomedical applications: brain atrophy, skin expansion, and cortical folding. Our analysis provides new insights into the role of growth in the development of tissue defects and residual stresses. Thus, we anticipate that our work will further motivate additional research to characterize residual stresses in living tissue and their role in development, disease, and clinical intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104177
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Brain mechanics
  • Finite plasticity
  • Growth and remodeling
  • Residual stress
  • Skin mechanics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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