Molecular deformation mechanisms of the wood cell wall material

Kai Jin, Zhao Qin, Markus J. Buehler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Wood is a biological material with outstanding mechanical properties resulting from its hierarchical structure across different scales. Although earlier work has shown that the cellular structure of wood is a key factor that renders it excellent mechanical properties at light weight, the mechanical properties of the wood cell wall material itself still needs to be understood comprehensively. The wood cell wall material features a fiber reinforced composite structure, where cellulose fibrils act as stiff fibers, and hemicellulose and lignin molecules act as soft matrix. The angle between the fiber direction and the loading direction has been found to be the key factor controlling the mechanical properties. However, how the interactions between theses constitutive molecules contribute to the overall properties is still unclear, although the shearing between fibers has been proposed as a primary deformation mechanism. Here we report a molecular model of the wood cell wall material with atomistic resolution, used to assess the mechanical behavior under shear loading in order to understand the deformation mechanisms at the molecular level. The model includes an explicit description of cellulose crystals, hemicellulose, as well as lignin molecules arranged in a layered nanocomposite. The results obtained using this model show that the wood cell wall material under shear loading deforms in an elastic and then plastic manner. The plastic regime can be divided into two parts according to the different deformation mechanisms: yielding of the matrix and sliding of matrix along the cellulose surface. Our molecular dynamics study provides insights of the mechanical behavior of wood cell wall material at the molecular level, and paves a way for the multi-scale understanding of the mechanical properties of wood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-206
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Molecular dynamics
  • Slip-stick mechanism
  • Wood cell wall
  • Yielding of matrix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Mechanics of Materials


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