The goal of this grant is to advance the fundamental understanding of a new class of dynamically reconfigurable surfaces that interconvert chemical and mechanical energy and thereby, exhibit unprecedented adaptive and self-regulating behavior. The research team plans to focus on systems of nano- and micro-scale pillars embedded in stimuli-responsive gels and harness various external stimuli to trigger reversible changes in the gels, which will power the concerted movement of the embedded structures and the associated, "programmable" changes in surface properties. To guide the experiments, the PIs will explore new computational approaches that seamlessly integrate the dynamic behavior of the responsive gels, a range of external stimuli, the embedded pillars, and the molecular components that decorate the pillars and gels. Through collaborative efforts, the PIs will establish a conceptual and theoretical basis for an emerging field of adaptive mechanochemistry.
If successful, the combined experimental and computational studies will facilitate the fundamental understanding of mechanochemical signal transduction and the complex, multi-scale "outputs" of these adaptive systems. Through this collaborative research, the PIs will establish a new framework for the design of adaptive materials in which external stimuli can be used to elicit coupled chemical and mechanical responses and their feedback loops. The students involved in the project will participate in high-school events to speak with underrepresented minority students and create a high-school experimentation tool in order to motivate them toward higher education in the physical sciences. The PIs and participating students will be engaged in general public activities, giving lectures and volunteering at the local Science Museum; the PIs also plan to organize a symposium on "Modeling and Synthesis of Soft Dynamic Biomimetic Materials" at a national meeting.