Inserted: 5 sep 2018
A polymer-chain network is a collection of interconnected polymer-chains, made themselves of the repetition of a single pattern called a monomer. Our first main result establishes that, for a class of models for polymer-chain networks, the thermodynamic limit in the canonical ensemble yields a hyperelastic model in continuum mechanics. In particular, the discrete Helmholtz free energy of the network converges to the infimum of a continuum integral functional (of an energy density depending only on the local deformation gradient) and the discrete Gibbs measure converges (in the sense of a large deviation principle) to a measure supported on minimizers of the integral functional. Our second main result establishes the small temperature limit of the obtained continuum model (provided the discrete Hamiltonian is itself independent of the temperature), and shows that it coincides with the $\Gamma$-limit of the discrete Hamiltonian, thus showing that thermodynamic and small temperature limits commute. We eventually apply these general results to a standard model of polymer physics from which we derive nonlinear elasticity. We moreover show that taking the $\Gamma$-limit of the Hamiltonian is a good approximation of the thermodynamic limit at finite temperature in the regime of large number of monomers per polymer-chain (which turns out to play the role of an effective inverse temperature in the analysis).