DMREF: Collaborative Research:Elastomers Filled with Electro- and Magneto-Active Fluid Inclusions: A New Paradigm for Soft Active Materials

Project: Research project

Project Details


Over the last two decades, increasing research efforts have been devoted to the mathematics, mechanics, and physics of soft organic solids with the ultimate objective of capitalizing on the potential that these materials hold to enable a broad spectrum of new technologies. Among these efforts, recent advances in mathematical modeling and polymer processing have just revealed elastomers filled with electro- and magneto-sensitive fluid (as opposed to the conventional solid) inclusions as a potentially revolutionary class of advanced soft organic solids that may enable a plethora of next generation sensors and actuators capable of exhibiting extreme and unprecedented electro- and magneto-mechanical properties. In this context, this Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) award supports a research collaboration on the mathematical and computational bottom-up analysis and design and the experimental synthesis and characterization of the coupled electro- and magneto-mechanical properties of elastomers filled with three broad types of fluid inclusions - namely, electrically charged gas-filled pores, liquid-metal inclusions, and ferrofluid inclusions - with the objective of accelerating the pace of fundamental understanding and technological deployment of this promising class of materials. This project will train three graduate students for careers in academia or industry and will integrate research results in the undergraduate and graduate curricula at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Pennsylvania State University. The investigators will also carry out activities to promote interest in high school students to pursue higher education and careers in STEM programs, and especially in the fields of mathematics and materials science, through the creation of lesson modules and laboratory demonstrations.

The overarching objective of this project is three-fold: 1) derive and numerically implement the homogenized equations describing the macroscopic electro- and magneto-mechanical response of elastomers filled with compressible and incompressible fluid inclusions directly accounting for the mechanical, electric, and magnetic interfacial forces at the elastomer/fluid-inclusion interfaces; 2) deploy the derived homogenized equations to guide the design of fluid inclusions that lead to porous electrets and elastomers filled with liquid-metal and ferrofluid inclusions with exceptional macroscopic electro- and magneto-mechanical properties; and 3) fabricate and characterize the microscopic and macroscopic properties of representative classes of electrets with electrically charged gas-filled pores, elastomers filled with liquid-metal inclusions, and elastomers filled with ferrofluid inclusions. The theoretical component involves new mathematical results and their associated numerical implementation that directly account for the rapid spatial variation (at the microscopic scale of the fluid inclusions) of space electrical charges and interfacial forces in the homogenization of the governing equations, namely, balance of momenta and Maxwell's equations. The experimental component, on the other hand, entails the synthesis of these new classes of multifunctional material systems and the development of new experiments that leverage in-situ X-ray tomography and thermally stimulated depolarization current measurements to extract the interfacial forces and space charge content and behavior at the elastomer/fluid-inclusion interfaces.

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.

Effective start/end date9/1/198/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $590,000.00


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