Materials that satisfy society's increasing demand for technological innovation and that provide solutions to major global challenges of the 21st century in the fields of energy efficiency, resource management, technology development, human health, and world security are frequently required to simultaneously exhibit multiple functions with superior performance. Through the course of natural evolution, a plethora of organisms have conceived material solutions that show exemplary performance characteristics across multiple property classes, including mechanics, optics, actuation and chemistry. These organisms thus provide an advantageous starting point for studying the role of morphology, morphogenesis, and material composition on emerging material properties. The project will explore the causalities between hierarchical material architectures, composition and morphogenesis, and the emerging functionalities in a set of exemplary biological systems. This will enable the identification of a generalized set of rules for guiding the design and fabrication of multifunctional 21st century materials.

Technical Abstract

This research is inspired by the vision that an understanding of the material solutions and design criteria used by Nature's finest multitasking artists in combination with novel analytical and computational materials evolution tools can provide insight into functional synergies and trade-offs in multifunctional materials and result in revolutionary biomimetic material platforms. The research team proposes to study the causalities between hierarchical material architectures, composition, and morphogenesis and the emerging properties in a set of exemplary biological systems by analytical and computational analysis of the multi-faceted material parameter interactions underlying true multifunctionality. Building on knowledge about design paradigms prevalent in biological multifunctional materials, analytical algorithms, computational routines, and virtual material design environments will be conceived that will allow the characterization of the phase space of possible material solutions as a function of user-prescribed performance criteria. This will permit the team to identify a generalized set of rules for guiding the design and fabrication of multifunctional new materials. The particular emphasis is on identifying synergies and trade-offs between mechanical functionalities, optical properties, actuation behavior, fluidics, and surface-chemistry induced effects. Based on this set of design rules, the PIs will fabricate material prototypes using state-of-the-art additive manufacturing, self-assembly, and microfabrication strategies. A detailed characterization of the performance of these prototypes and comparison to the parent biological system(s) will enable evaluation of the validity and prediction capabilities of the design rules and allow for their refinement in an iterative process. In summary, the PIs propose to tackle the challenges of multifunctional material design using a feedback oriented "evolutionary research algorithm" with focus on the realization of dynamic multifunctional materials capable of fast autonomous or controlled functional morphing stimulated by external influences or user input.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
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John Schlueter
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Harvard University
United States
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