A new project “Optimal Design of Responsive Materials and Structures”, in collaboration with Kaushik Bhattacharya at Caltech has been funded by the National Science Foundation.
This project will support the research of two graduate and several undergraduate students on the design of responsive materials and structures.
This project is motivated by the confluence of two technological advances. The first is 3D printing and other novel manufacturing technologies. The second is the development of active materials whose properties can be altered by electrical or magnetic fields and heat. It is now becoming possible to 3D print active materials like shape-memory alloys and liquid crystal elastomers. This paves the way for responsive structures whose shape can be controlled by external stimuli. Further, combining them with structural materials can endow them with functions that are of use for many applications including soft robotics, wearable and prosthetic devices, microfluidics, cleanup of hazardous chemicals, targeted drug delivery, and tissue engineering. However, there is no known way to systematically design such devices. This project will develop a methodology for the systematic design of responsive structures and meta-materials which are complex assemblies of distinct materials and voids, especially optimal design where one seeks the best function at the least cost. These optimal design problems lead to substantial mathematical problems. Conversely, a better mathematical understanding of these problems can lead to new design approaches. By providing robust methodologies for the design and synthesis of responsive structures and meta-materials, this research will have a significant technological impact. It will also provide for the training of two graduate students and several undergraduate researchers. It will generate new opportunities for engaging K-12 students in STEM, and for promoting STEM education amongst underrepresented groups.