Patrick Looking Toward the Future

As a Ph.D. civil engineering student, Jason Patrick helped integrate 3D microvascular networks into structural fiber-composite materials, providing them with multifunctional capabilities, including self-healing and electrical reconfigurability. His next role: One of the 2014 Beckman Postdoctoral Fellows. 

Jason Patrick’s enthusiasm is evident. When talking about his research, both his tireless energy and his ambitious plans for the future make it clear how invested he is in his work. His dedication is paying off.

Patrick will complete his Ph.D. in civil engineering this summer, and will then continue on as one of the 2014 Beckman Postdoctoral Fellows, which allows him to conduct his own research with multiple faculty collaborators for up to three years at the Beckman Institute.

As a postdoc, he will focus on the development of authentic biomimetic materials—synthetic systems that operate very much in the same way nature does. He is aiming to combine self-healing systems with self-sensing functionality, creating materials that can communicate where damage has occurred, heal it autonomously, and continue to monitor the status of the structure.

He plans to work with a truly multidisciplinary faculty team at Beckman: Stephen Boppart, from Integrative Imaging; Jeffrey Moore, Nancy Sottos, and Scott White, from the Autonomous Materials Systems Group, and John Rogers, from the 3D Micro- and Nanosystems Group. 

“I’m really looking forward to this next step. It’s an opportunity for me to get outside my comfort zone to learn more about micro-electronics and biomedical applications, and to collaborate with these amazing professors who are pioneers in their respective fields,” Patrick said. “Coming from civil engineering, the rich, interdisciplinary environment at Beckman has shown me the possibilities of collaborative research. I’m very excited to see what we come up with next.” 

His future postdoc work is building on concepts from his recently published paper that revealed a new self-healing system allowing fiber-composite materials to heal automatically and repeatedly. The system was developed with Patrick’s advisors White, Sottos, and Moore.  

Coming from civil engineering, the rich, interdisciplinary environment at Beckman has shown me the possibilities of collaborative research. I’m very excited to see what we come up with next. - Jason Patrick

Internal damage in fiber-reinforced composites, materials used in structures of modern airplanes and automobiles, is difficult to detect and nearly impossible to repair by conventional methods. A small, internal crack can quickly develop into irreversible damage from delamination, a process in which the layers separate. This remains one of the most significant factors limiting more widespread use of composite materials.

To solve this problem, Patrick helped create 3D vascular networks—patterns of microchannels filled with liquid healing chemistries—that thread through a fiber-reinforced composite. When damage occurs, the networks within the material break apart and allow the healing chemistries to mix and polymerize, autonomously repairing the material, over multiple cycles.

“The beauty of it is, we don’t have to probe the structure and say, this is where the damage occurred and then glue it back ourselves,” he said. “You can’t do that—it’s not practical or even possible. Many times the damage is subsurface, and, if it’s in an airplane wing for instance, you can’t see it, but you need to fix it as soon as possible to avoid catastrophic failure.” 

Patrick harnessed the power of the interdisciplinary atmosphere and the state-of-the-art facilities at the Beckman Institute to conduct this research. 

“I had the opportunity to reach across disciplines and interact with a variety of talented engineers, chemists, and materials scientists,” Patrick said.

Patrick used many of the imaging facilities at Beckman, including x-ray computed microtomography (µCT) and Raman spectroscopy.  µCT enabled the team to visualize the vascular networks they had created inside these composites, and Raman spectroscopy allowed them to characterize the mixing of the healing agents and prove, molecularly, that the process worked. 

“We wouldn’t have been able to do a quarter of this without the facilities and personnel at Beckman,” Patrick said.

This article is part of the Spring 2014 Synergy Issue, a publication of the Communications Office of the Beckman Institute.