Theory of equilibria of elastic 2-braids with interstrand interaction

E.L. Starostin & G.H.M. van der Heijden

Motivated by continuum models for DNA supercoiling we formulate a theory for equilibria of 2-braids, i.e., structures formed by two elastic rods winding around each other in continuous contact and subject to a local interstrand interaction. No assumption is made on the shape of the contact curve. The theory is developed in terms of a moving frame of directors attached to one of the strands. The other strand is tracked by including in this frame the normalised closest-approach chord connecting the two strands. The kinematic constant-distance constraint is formulated at strain level through the introduction of what we call braid strains. As a result the total potential energy involves arclength derivatives of these strains, thus giving rise to a second-order variational problem. The Euler-Lagrange equations for this problem give balance equations for the overall braid force and moment referred to the moving frame as well as differential equations that can be interpreted as effective constitutive relations encoding the effect that the second strand has on the first as the braid deforms under the action of end loads. Hard contact models are used to obtain the normal contact pressure between strands that has to be non-negative for a physically realisable solution without the need for external devices such as clamps or glue to keep the strands together. The theory is first illustrated by a number of problems that can be solved analytically and then applied to several new problems that have not hitherto been treated.

keywords: elastic rods, braids, interstrand interaction, invariant second-order variational problem, DNA supercoiling

J. Mech. Phys. Solids 64, 83-132 (2014)