Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Throughout history, the advancing of human civilization has been driven by tools made of hard materials: from stone to ceramics, from bronze to steel, and more recently with plastics and semiconductors. In contrast, our body is mostly made of materials that are orders of magnitude softer than common engineering materials: think about skin, brain, eye, liver, heart, etc. in comparison to metals, ceramics, and glasses. The softness of our body defines how we interact with the world. From the texture of food to the touch of clothes, from biomedical implants to wearable devices, anything that interacts with our body should preferably match the softness of our body. Consequently, developing robust functional soft materials lies at the heart of modern research on biomedical devices, soft robotics, human augmentation, etc.

The research at LASM3 focuses on the critical challenges in the mechanics and manufacturing that limits the real-world applications of soft materials. On the mechanics side, we study nonlinear large deformation and stimuli-responsiveness, which is used to implement complex functions in soft structures. We also study various failure mechanisms of soft materials, which limits the long-term operation of soft structure in real-world conditions. While the understanding of mechanics is instructional for the design of structures and devices, the realization of any design ultimately relies on the available manufacturing tools. On the manufacturing side, we study ways of integrating different materials of distinct properties in complex 3D structures. As combining different materials is a prerequisite for any complex devices, from cellphones, cars to our body. We also study high-throughput manufacturing of microstructures. As microstructure is the key strategy nature used to design high-performance soft materials. Our study of mechanics and manufacturing goes side by side so that meaningful structure that can be theorized can practically be realized.  

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