Energy dissipation in mammalian collagen fibrils: Cyclic strain-induced damping, toughening, and strengthening

Julia Liu, Debashish Das, Fan Yang, Andrea G. Schwartz, Guy M. Genin, Stavros Thomopoulos, Ioannis Chasiotis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As the fundamental structural protein in mammals, collagen transmits cyclic forces that are necessary for the mechanical function of tissues, such as bone and tendon. Although the tissue-level mechanical behavior of collagenous tissues is well understood, the response of collagen at the nanometer length scales to cyclical loading remains elusive. To address this major gap, we cyclically stretched individual reconstituted collagen fibrils, with average diameter of 145 ± 42 nm, to small and large strains in the partially hydrated conditions of 60% relative humidity. It is shown that cyclical loading results in large steady-state hysteresis that is reached immediately after the first loading cycle, followed thereafter by limited accumulation of inelastic strain and constant initial elastic modulus. Cyclic loading above 20% strain resulted in 70% increase in tensile strength, from 638 ± 98 MPa to 1091 ± 110 MPa, and 70% increase in toughness, while maintaining the ultimate tensile strain of collagen fibrils not subjected to cyclic loading. Throughout cyclic stretching, the fibrils maintained a steady-state hysteresis, yielding loss coefficients that are 5–10 times larger than those of known homogeneous materials in their modulus range, thus establishing damping of nanoscale collagen fibrils as a major component of damping in tissues. Statement of Significance: It is shown that steady-state energy dissipation occurs in individual collagen fibrils that are the building blocks of hard and soft tissues. To date, it has been assumed that energy dissipation in tissues takes place mainly at the higher length scales of the tissue hierarchy due to interactions between collagen fibrils and fibers, and in limited extent inside collagen fibrils. It is shown that individual collagen fibrils need only a single loading cycle to assume a highly dissipative, steady-state, cyclic mechanical response. Mechanical cycling at large strains leads to 70% increase in mechanical strength and values exceeding those of engineering steels. The same cyclic loading conditions also lead to 70% increase in toughness and loss properties that are 5–10 times higher than those of engineering materials with comparable stiffness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-227
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Oct 15 2018


  • Energy dissipation
  • Hysteresis
  • Large deformation
  • Recovery
  • Strengthening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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