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Abstract

<p>Protein hydrogels serve as an excellent scaffolding for artificial tissues and smart drug delivery systems. A protein hydrogel is derived from a highly cross-linked network of constitute proteins. These proteins show a force sensitive response to folding and unfolding of their individual domains. Here, we report a dynamic model of protein hydrogel mechanics based on an empirically verified model of single molecule mechanics. Our model explains how protein orientation and domain unfolding affect the elastic behavior of hydrogels, such as the hysteresis and the stress-relaxation response. Moreover, as we scale the number of molecules within our model we notice a smooth transition from a probabilistic molecular behavior, to a deterministic macroscopic behavior. Parallels can then be drawn between the force induced responses of single molecule mechanics, and aggregate hydrogel mechanics. This model provides a stepping stone for formulating the future of protein-based materials, such as those used in artificial skin and 3-D organ printing.</p>