Traction-separation laws and stick-slip shear phenomenon of interfaces between cellulose nanocrystals

Robert Sinko, Sinan Keten*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) are one of nature's most abundant structural material building blocks and possess outstanding mechanical properties including a tensile modulus comparable to Kevlar. It remains challenging to upscale these properties in CNC neat films and nanocomposites due to the difficulty of characterizing interfacial bonding between CNCs that governs stress transfer under deformation. Here we present new analyses based on atomistic simulations of shear and tensile failure of the interfaces between Iβ CNCs, providing new insight into factors governing the mechanical behavior of hierarchical nanocellulose materials. We compare the two most relevant crystal interfaces and find that hydrogen bonded surfaces have greater tensile strength compared to the surfaces governed by weaker interactions. On the contrary, shearing simulations reveal that friction between the atomic interfaces depends not only on surface energy but also the energy landscape along the shear direction. While being a weaker interface, the intersheet plane exhibits greater energy barriers to shear. The molecular roughness of this interface, characterized by a greater energy barrier, exhibits stick-slip deformation behavior as opposed to a more continuous sliding and rebonding mechanism observed for the interfaces with hydrogen bonds. Analytical models to describe the energy landscapes are developed using energy scaling relations for van der Waals surfaces in combination with a modification of the Prandtl-Tomlinson model for atomic friction. Our simulations pave the way for tailoring hierarchical CNC materials by taking a similar approach to techniques employed for describing metals, where mechanical properties can be tuned through a deeper understanding of grain boundary physics and nanoscale interfaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)526-539
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids
StatePublished - May 2015


  • Adhesion
  • Biomaterials
  • Biopolymers
  • Carbohydrates
  • Interfaces
  • Nanocomposites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering

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