Autonomous Materials Systems

A 3-D representation of a polymeric microcapsule rupturing to release the healing agent.

The Autonomous Materials Systems group is an interdisciplinary research group comprised of chemists, engineers, and materials scientists concerned with strategies for designing multifunctional materials systems that respond in an autonomic fashion.

Group Leader: Nancy R. Sottos

The research pursued by the Autonomous Materials Systems group relates directly to the Molecular Science and Engineering research theme and is concerned with studying material functionality from the nanometer length scale to macroscale devices for potential applications across a broad spectrum of industries from aerospace to biomedicine to microelectronics.

Research thrusts in the Autonomous Materials Systems group are primarily aligned with three overarching scientific aims in self-generating materials systems, microvascular material architectures, and high-resolution experimental techniques for material analysis.

Self-generating materials systems
In the self-generating materials systems area, research is focused on imparting self-healing functionality through incorporation of material phases that undergo self-generation in response to damage. Self-healing polymers are achieved by incorporating microencapsulated healing agents and catalysts within the native polymer. In response to damage the microencapsulated phases are released and healing is accomplished through in situ polymerization. Significant activity within the group is devoted to the development of environmentally stable catalysts and healing agents, seamless integration of material phases, and experimental assessment of damage and healing kinetics.

Microvascular material architectures
A major research effort is devoted to microvascular material architectures in which vascular circulatory systems are integrated in materials to provide a conduit through which functionality can be imparted. Continuous healing and repair of vascular materials are one application, however many other functionalities are being investigated including self-cooling/heating, self-diagnosis and assessment, and self-morphing structures. The group studies natural vascular systems to provide inspiration for synthetic vascular designs using multiscale, coupled-field analysis and optimization techniques. Significant activity is also focused on the development of high-resolution fabrication techniques for vascular architecture using direct-write assembly and functional materials systems for healing, cooling, and diagnostics.

High-resolution experimental techniques for material analysis
A pervasive theme within the Autonomic Materials System group is the reliance on high-resolution experimental techniques for materials analysis. New methods of imaging material architecture and probing in situ response to stress are under development including high-resolution strain mapping via nanoparticle digital image correlation and atomic force microscopy. New techniques are also being explored to analyze mechanochemical activity in materials systems subject to mechanical stress.

Advanced Microscopy
A common feature of research in the Autonomic Materials Systems group is a reliance on the latest advances in imaging, including scanning tunneling (STM), atomic force (AFM), and confocal microscopies for the characterization of material structures. The power of these methods is used in creative combination with state of the art laser spectroscopic and light scattering methodologies to elucidate structure - function mechanisms in the mesoscale domain. They also serve as a bridge for extensive interactions with members of the 3D Micro- and Nanosystems, Nanoelectronics, Bioimaging Technologies, and Computational Mutiscale Nanosystems groups.