Nature is masterful at using limited components and basic driving forces to achieve complex tasks, such as high power movement and multi-structure assembly, across a broad range of size scales. The materials that enable these achievements often rely upon the integration of phases that allow for internal transport, elastic energy storage, system protecting dissipation, and tunable sensitivity to interfacial interactions. Here, we describe two examples of how to
take advantage of mesoscale structural asymmetry along with materials phases that bring similar attributes to those found in nature to achieve new engineered capabilities. The first example takes inspiration from multiple examples in nature, such as trap-jaw ants, that use Latch-Mediated Spring Actuation (LaMSA) to achieve high power movements. The second example describes the use of structural asymmetry to mediate swelling/deswelling processes and elastic restoring forces to control the motion and assembly of mesoscale polymer gel ribbons. Collectively, both examples provide new insight into how polymer gel properties can combine with purposeful structural design to yield complex tasks.
Alfred J. Crosby is a Professor in the Polymer Science & Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Co-Director of the Center for Evolutionary Materials. Al received his B.S. in Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics from the University of Virginia and his Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering from Northwestern University. He was an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow at NIST from 2000-2002 before joining UMass Amherst in 2002. He has received numerous awards, including being a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the National Academy of Inventors, and his research has been covered extensively in the popular media. He serves on several advisory boards and is an Associate Editor for Soft Matter .
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