A theoretical model for the linear elastic properties of three-dimensional open-cell foams is developed. We consider a tetrahedral unit cell, which contains four identical half-struts that join at equal angles, to represent the essential microstructural features of a foam. The effective continuum stress is obtained for an individual tetrahedral element arbitrarily oriented with respect to the principal directions of strain. The effective elastic constants for a foam are determined under the assumption that all possible orientations of the unit cell are equally probable in a representative volume element. The elastic constants are expressed as functions of compliances for bending and stretching of a strut, whose cross section is permitted to vary with distance from the joint, so the effect of strut morphology on effective elastic properties can be determined. Strut bending is the primary distortional mechanism for low-density foams with tetrahedral microstructure. For uniform strut cross section, the effective Young’s modulus is proportional to the volume fraction of solid material squared, and the coefficient of proportionality depends upon the specific strut shape. A similar analysis for cellular materials with cubic microstructure indicates that strut extension is the dominant distortional mechanism and that the effective Young’s modulus is linear in volume fraction. Our results emphasize the essential role of microstructure in determining the linear elastic properties of cellular materials and provide a theoretical framework for investigating nonlinear behavior.

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