Prof. Hutchens and a team of students introduced basketball players to polymers, mechanical testing, and design through an outreach activity designed to mimic shoe sole structures. Campers, ranging from 3rd to 8th grade, were attending a week-long basketball camp run by the Illini Women’s Basketball coaching staff and players. However, for a short time, they transformed into scientists, learning about polymer microstructure by acting as polymer chains, and engineers, pouring, mixing, and troubleshooting their midsole manufacturing process. Midsoles were made using shoe-shaped molds, which campers would fill with a self-foaming, fast-setting elastomer material.
By changing the ratio of the two components, campers found they could control the energy recovery and toughness of the material. After an initial trial, many groups improved their midsoles by inventing new smoothing techniques, improving mixing, or decreasing their processing time. Overall, both campers and student volunteers agreed that the activity was a success.
Student volunteers included graduate students from Prof. Hutchens’ group (Matt Milner, Amrita Kataruka, and Bingyang Zhang), graduate student volunteers from the college of engineering (Ganesh Patil, MechSE; Jungwoo Shin, MatSE), and undergraduate volunteers from Bioengineering (Favour Obuseh).
Shelby and Matt repeated the ‘Sole Solution’ elastomer foam making and testing activity at this year’s UIUC GAMES Camp (June 19-23, 2017). Campers learned about polymers, effects of composition changes on mechanical response, and drop tests. Materials were evaluated through the lens of shoe sole design.
The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or university. Funding of $500,000 is provided over a period of 5 years. See departmental article (here).
About the research:
The plant kingdom quietly and efficiently goes about its life without the aid of muscle tissue. Despite this lack, plants can produce large and even rapid movements using water as the driving force. These movements enable energy harvesting and sexual reproduction for the individual. This award supports research efforts that use this osmosis-driven motion as inspiration. In leveraging plant architectures, the synthetic plant-tissue-analogs resulting from these efforts will provide a non-toxic, energy efficient, and tailored response. Simultaneously, such materials would require no connection to an external power support when used in water. The anticipated response of these hydraulic structures may be tuned to provide response variation as a function of both time and position. Responses such as these are essential for many tissue therapies and will benefit society via applications in healthcare and biomechanics. Further, the fundamental efforts supported by this award will enrich understanding of the hydraulic response of plants, a necessary component of detailed climate models.
The objective of this proposal is to describe the physico-chemo-hydromechanical behavior of closed-cell fluid-solid composites under the regime of osmosis-driven motion. The research team will develop a constitutive model for this currently undescribed class of materials by building on existing theories of poroelasticity for solids capable of finite deformation. Models will be informed by experiments on synthetic plant-tissue-analogs architected for a homogeneous deformation response when immersed in an aqueous environment. As validation of the final model, dynamically and/or inhomogeneously-deforming, architected composites will be designed and fabricated with an aim toward metastable, hierarchical self-assembled structures. In successfully modeling these materials, this work will fill an existing gap in the understanding of ‘water relations’ in plant tissue. Specifically, by controlling material and surface properties via engineered water-solid composites, this work will resolve an ongoing debate regarding inter- and intra-cellular water flow pathways and their dependence on the osmotic and hydrostatic pressure within the cells.