This grant will support the research that will create new knowledge relevant to soft robotics and active structures that are widely used in biomedical, manufacturing and energy sectors and will serve to advance our national health and prosperity. The grant allows the design and investigation of artificial muscle fibers fabricated from electrospinning technique. Artificial muscle materials can generate an active deformation and force when subjected to external stimuli, behaving like real muscle. Previously developed artificial muscle materials have often suffered from poor scalability and slow response, which greatly limit their applications. Consequently, performance of artificial muscle has been increasingly recognized as one of the bottlenecks in designing novel soft robots and active structures. The artificial muscle material in this grant will have superior mechanical properties, a faster response rate, diverse actuating modes and excellent scalability. These new materials will contribute to the rapidly developing fields of soft robotics, novel actuators and energy conversion systems. The project will also provide interdisciplinary education and training opportunities to graduate and undergraduate students and seeks to attract underrepresented groups into science and engineering. Short disseminated demonstrations of artificial muscles to be developed will serve as an attractive education and research platform for disadvantaged, first generation high school and college students.
The artificial muscle assembled from electrospun polymer fibers can be easily fabricated into different shapes with various actuating modes, scaled up and down to various sizes, made to respond to different stimuli. A comprehensive understanding of processing-structure-property relationship for the electrospun polymer fibers is essential for the rational design of the artificial muscle fibers. The research team will electrospin three different types of polymer fibers: semicrystalline polyamide, polyelectrolyte and liquid crystal polymer, conduct systematic chemo-thermo-mechanical characterizations of these individual fibers using novel electrospinning tools, and design artificial muscle with diverse actuating modes by assembling these polymer fibers into different patterns.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.