Soft materials surround us and compose us. In the modern economy, soft solids underpin several industries from gels used in food science and cosmetics to rubber crucial to transportation. One exotic type of soft material recently developed in research labs is called active matter and is created from constituents that move themselves. Most of the research in active matter focuses on active fluids and how movement on the smallest scales can induce large-scale flow. In this proposal, I focus on active solids and their elasticity in order to design new types of active soft materials.
The broad question that this research aims to answer is: ``What materials properties are disallowed in equilibrium, but can be created using active matter?'' The design of synthetic soft machines presents a set of challenges at the intersection of materials science and robotics. One challenge is to integrate sensors and actuators with elastic components that deform, move, and perform useful work. In order to create soft machines that are efficient, it is necessary to understand the fundamental laws governing such active materials. This exciting area of fundamental science has seen a lot of recent progress by combining the tools of materials science and non-equilibrium physics.
This proposal aims to address a challenge encountered on the way to designing soft machines: how can one make an active material do something useful? In order to address this challenge, the proposal aims to formulate the fundamental physical laws about how useful work can be extracted from a material with active components. Once these laws have been formulated, they can be used to construct a set of design principles for functional, efficient soft machines.
Active materials are inherently modular, because they are composed of many interchangeable moving parts. Broadly speaking, the long-term aim of the proposal's research area is to improve on the current design of soft devices such as artificial organs and limbs as well as wearable electronics, for example by creating active components that are more efficient, more damage resistant, or self-healing.