This Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) grant provides funding for the development of a robust manufacturing approach for a novel group of active polymers, anisotropic shape memory elastomeric composites (ASMEC) and laminates, by the guidance of advanced theoretical and computational modeling. This approach involves manufacturing of ASMEC and laminates by embedding a crystallizable thermoplastic fiber network into an elastomeric matrix with a preferred orientation. The melting and crystallization of the co-continuous fiber phase provides mechanical switching, enabling active behavior such as shape memory. The structure-function relationship of the ASMEC will be investigated using a computational micromechanics approach. Such a relationship will be used to establish robust design and manufacturing processes for ASMEC. The ASMECs will then be assembled into elastomeric laminates and their characterization data will be used to validate the computational and theoretical models which will in turn be used to guide the design of future ASMECs. Theoretical studies and material developments will be conducted simultaneously and in an iterative manner, with computation and theory guiding experiments, experiments informing theory and computation, with possible discoveries emerging across all approaches.
If successful, the results from this work will lead to the establishment of a new paradigm for the construction of a wide range of active polymers, along with new insights into the mechanics of composite materials. The primary goal of this work is to establish a relationship between the active behavior of ASMEC and its microscopic structural parameters, such as fiber orientation, fiber phase behavior, and volume fraction. The development of ASMEC represents a new approach to the development of active polymers, quite distinct from the conventional approach of using highly specialized chemistry. Instead, active polymers are manufactured using a plug-and-play process where two conventional polymers are combined to form new active materials/composites. The manufacturing approach for ASMEC will be highly scalable so that it can be readily commercialized for large scale production at a low cost. The proposed theoretical development will also advance current understanding on how polymer crystallization can be used as a ?switching phase? for active behavior and the current knowledge on mechanics of composite materials.