Propagation and attenuation of mechanical signals in ultrasoft 2D solids

Doorn, Jan Maarten van; Higler, Ruben; Wegh, Ronald; Fokkink, Remco; Zaccone, Alessio; Sprakel, Joris; Gucht, Jasper van der


The propagation of elastic waves in soft materials plays a crucial role in the spatiotemporal transmission of mechanical signals, e.g., in biological mechanotransduction or in the failure of marginal solids. At high Reynolds numbers Re ≫ 1, inertia dominates and wave propagation is readily observed. However, mechanical cues in soft and biological materials often occur at low Re, where waves are overdamped. Overdamped waves are not only difficult to observe experimentally, also theoretically their description remains incomplete. Here, we present direct measurements of the propagation and attenuation of mechanical signals in colloidal soft solids, induced by an optical trap. We derive an analytical theory for low Re wave propagation and damping, which is in excellent agreement with the experiments. Our results present both a previously unexplored method to characterize damped waves in soft solids and a theoretical framework showing how localized mechanical signals can provoke a remote and delayed response.