Cavitation nucleation in gelatin: Experiment and mechanism

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Dynamic cavitation in soft materials is becoming increasingly relevant due to emerging medical implications such as the potential of cavitation-induced brain injury or cavitation created by therapeutic medical devices. However, the current understanding of dynamic cavitation in soft materials is still very limited, mainly due to lack of robust experimental techniques. To experimentally characterize cavitation nucleation under dynamic loading, we utilize a recently developed experimental instrument, the integrated drop tower system. This technique allows quantitative measurements of the critical acceleration (acr) that corresponds to cavitation nucleation while concurrently visualizing time evolution of cavitation. Our experimental results reveal that acr increases with increasing concentration of gelatin in pure water. Interestingly, we have observed the distinctive transition from a sharp increase (pure water to 1% gelatin) to a much slower rate of increase (∼10× slower) between 1% and 7.5% gelatin. Theoretical cavitation criterion predicts the general trend of increasing acr, but fails to explain the transition rates. As a likely mechanism, we consider concentration-dependent material properties and non-spherical cavitation nucleation sites, represented by pre-existing bubbles in gels, due to possible interplay between gelatin molecules and nucleation sites. This analysis shows that cavitation nucleation is very sensitive to the initial configuration of a bubble, i.e., a non-spherical bubble can significantly increase acr. This conclusion matches well with the experimentally observed liquid-to-gel transition in the critical acceleration for cavitation nucleation. Statement of Significance: From a medical standpoint, understanding dynamic cavitation within soft materials, i.e., tissues, is important as there are both potential injury implications (blast-induced cavitation within the brain) as well as treatments utilizing the phenomena (lithotripsy). In this regard, the main results of the present work are (1) quantitative characterization of cavitation nucleation in gelatin samples as a function of gel concentration utilizing well-controlled mechanical impacts and (2) mechanistic understanding of complex coupling between cavitation and liquid-/solid-like material properties of gel. The new capabilities of testing soft gels, which can be tuned to mimic material properties of target organs, at high loading rate conditions and accurately predicting their cavitation behavior are an important step towards developing reliable cavitation criteria in the scope of their biomedical applications.




Kang, W., Adnan, A., O’Shaughnessy, T., & Bagchi, A. (2018). Cavitation nucleation in gelatin: Experiment and mechanism. Acta Biomaterialia, 67, 295–306.

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