Simulation of anisotropic crack tip deformation processes and particle interactions in toughened polymers

Garrett Nygren, Ryan L. Karkkainen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study develops a finite element-based simulation of submicrometer crack tip deformation processes in polymers to investigate local toughening effects. An initial study of how these processes interact with stiff inclusions is presented to enable further investigation of particulate toughening. Crack tip and process zone mechanisms, including polymer chain disentanglement, directional chain realignment with consequent anisotropy, and crack propagation, are considered in a dedicated user-defined material law. Such processes are generally homogenized on higher scale continuum levels analyses, but direct simulation can provide insight into toughening mechanisms that have been widely observed but not fully explained. The user material law herein was employed in a parametric study to investigate the relative importance of (1) the extent of local inelastic polymer chain realignment and (2) consequent anisotropic hardening of the realigned polymer chains. In order to explore the interaction of fracture processes with nanometer-scale inclusions, silica particles with varied spacing were also included in the simulations. The interaction between local stress concentration and energy dissipation mechanisms has been quantified. It is shown that in neat polymers, local yielding is the dominant toughening effect accounting for over 90% of the local energy absorption, whereas local stiffening alone would decrease toughness. Stiff inclusions were shown to generally decrease toughness, except in cases where local yielding greatly outweighs local stiffening effects. Roughly 45% increase in toughness was shown for a 250-nm particle spacing that balances the acceleration of elastic failure with the formation of a larger local yield zone size. This demonstrates the utility of employing dedicated material laws to microstructural scale analyses in providing design targets in material design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-13
Number of pages11
JournalPolymers and Polymer Composites
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Fracture mechanics
  • microstructure
  • particulates
  • process zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Materials Chemistry


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