Research Area B will investigate adaptive soft macromolecular materials systems, which will integrate self-regulation principles to evolve their properties and reactivity over time. Central design strategies will focus on the development of methods suited for the formation of hierarchical systems through merging top-down additive manufacturing with bottom-up self-assembly, and combining this with programmable interactions on a molecular, structural and systems level (Integrated Multimaterials Additive Manufacturing, MAM).
One of the conceptual keys is to recognize, understand and exploit the different length, force and time scales spanning from the molecular to the integrated system level. All scales exhibit distinct and complementary switching mechanisms, response times, and approaches for bi- and multi-stability, as well as for implementing self-regulation features, and will ultimately lead to a synergistic response in an integrated materials system. In terms of adaptability, we will break with present concepts of responsive materials, which mostly shift passively between equilibrium states. We will focus on complex adaptation mechanisms, including adaptation to non-trivial functional states (e.g. encountered in metamaterials or shape morphing), signal strength-dependent adaptation (also in a non-linear fashion), and exposure frequency-dependent adaptation (a primitive form of training or learning on the materials systems level).
Moreover, we will pursue concepts for active adaptation triggered by the release of stored energy. This connects to non-equilibrium concepts, because we suggest that active and fast adaptation can best proceed from trapped energy-rich states or proceed in dissipative steady-states. Ultimately, this implies 5D systems, whereby 3D represents the spatial dimensions, 1D represents the temporal domain, and 1D represents the signal and information-based adaptation mechanisms. Research Area B will activate and convert the energies provided by the harvesters of Research Area A into energies useful for energy-driven adaptation concepts. We will focus on the three very important molecularly controlled soft material classes: polymers, peptides/proteins and DNA, and integrate a diversity of controlled, correlated and self-regulating switching and information-processing systems.