Our Research

Using both experimental and modeling approaches, we investigate the dynamics of soft elastic solids and non-Newtonian fluids from a curiosity-driven approach. Currently we are interested in green technologies that use soft materials to address our environmental footprint. In particular, we are studying the fluid dynamics of water-processible polymers and the elastodynamics of mechanical batteries (made of materials that store and release elastic energy). By studying the underlying fundamental physics related to these systems, we aim to inform further development of green technologies.

Adsorption-induced slip inhibition for polymer melts on ideal substrates

Adsorption-induced slip inhibition for polymer melts on ideal substrates

Hydrodynamic slip, the motion of a liquid along a solid surface, represents a fundamental phenomenon in fluid dynamics that governs liquid transport at small scales. For polymeric liquids, de Gennes predicted that the Navier boundary condition together with polymer reptation implies extraordinarily large interfacial slip for entangled polymer melts on ideal surfaces; this Navier-de Gennes model was confirmed using dewetting experiments on ultra-smooth, low-energy substrates. Here, we use capillary leveling—surface tension driven flow of films with initially non-uniform thickness—of polymeric films on these same substrates. Measurement of the slip length from a robust one parameter fit to a lubrication model is achieved. We show that at the low shear rates involved in leveling experiments as compared to dewetting ones, the employed substrates can no longer be considered ideal. The data is instead consistent with a model that includes physical adsorption of polymer chains at the solid/liquid interface.

The principles of cascading power limits in small, fast biological and engineered systems

The principles of cascading power limits in small, fast biological and engineered systems

In biological and engineered systems, an inherent trade-off exists between the force and velocity that can be delivered by a muscle, spring, or combination of the two. However, one can amplify the maximum throwing power of an arm by storing the energy in a bow or sling shot with a latch mechanism for sudden release. Ilton et al. used modeling to explore the performance of motor-driven versus spring-latch systems in engineering and biology across size scales. They found a range of general principles that are common to animals, plants, fungi, and machines that use elastic structures to maximize kinetic energy.