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Dynamics of mussel plaque detachment


Mussels are well known for their ability to generate and maintain strong, long-lasting adhesive bonds under hostile conditions. Many prior studies attribute their adhesive strength to the strong chemical interactions between the holdfast and substrate. While chemical interactions are certainly important, adhesive performance is also determined by contact geometry, and understanding the coupling between chemical interactions and the plaque shape and mechanical properties is essential in deploying bioinspired strategies when engineering improved adhesives. To investigate how the shape and mechanical properties of the mussel's plaque contribute to its adhesive performance, we use a custom built load frame capable of fully characterizing the dynamics of the detachment. With this, we can pull on samples along any orientation, while at the same time measuring the resulting force and imaging the bulk deformations of the plaque as well as the holdfast-substrate interface where debonding occurs. We find that the force-induced yielding of the mussel plaque improves the bond strength by two orders of magnitude and that the holdfast shape improves bond strength by an additional order of magnitude as compared to other simple geometries. These results demonstrate that optimizing the contact geometry can play as important a role on adhesive performance as optimizing the chemical interactions as observed in other organisms and model systems.

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