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The peridynamic method is used here to analyse the effect of van der Waals forces on the mechanical behaviour and strength and toughness properties of three-dimensional nanofibre networks under imposed stretch deformation. The peridynamic formulation allows for a natural inclusion of long-range forces (such as van der Waals forces) by considering all interactions as ‘long-range’. We use van der Waals interactions only between different fibres and do not need to model individual atoms. Fracture is introduced at the microstructural (peridynamic bond) level for the microelastic type bonds, while van der Waals bonds can reform at any time. We conduct statistical studies to determine a certain volume element for which the network of randomly oriented fibres becomes quasi-isotropic and insensitive to statistical variations. This qualitative study shows that the presence of van der Waals interactions and of heterogeneities (sacrificial bonds) in the strength of the bonds at the crosslinks between fibres can help in increasing the strength and toughness of the nanofibre network. Two main mechanisms appear to control the deformation of nanofibre networks: fibre reorientation (caused by deformation and breakage) and fibre accretion (due to van derWaals interaction). Similarities to the observed toughness of polymer adhesive in the abalone shell composition are explained.
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