CAREER: Development of "Smart" Structural Nanocomposites Based on Interfacial Coupling and Local Field Enhancement

Project: Research project

Project Details


This Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) research grant proposes to provide funding to investigate the electromechanical responses in polymer nanocomposites by exploiting the increasingly dominant role of interfaces at the nanoscale. The proposed research will explore the role of dipolar and ionic groups in stabilizing dispersion of nanoinclusions, dictating their orientation and affecting their percolation network in the host polymer. Control of the nanocomposite mesostructure will be accomplished through the presence and concentration of dipoles, nature of nanoinclusions, and morphology of the polymer. Further, the interaction between nanoinclusions and the polymeric functional groups will be tuned to generate either an induced or a permanent polarization, resulting in coupling between electrical, mechanical, optical and thermal properties. A theoretical understanding will be developed to relate the microstructure to structural and sensing/actuation properties by exploring the resulting phenomenological responses in the nanocomposites. The educational component of this CAREER plan has two main projects that link the on-going research with student-centered curriculum and mentoring projects based on a constructivist pedagogy. The first project involves curriculum revision and design of an undergraduate course and a graduate course, respectively. The second project "SMARTGirls" is a multilayered mentoring program to encourage high school girls from underprivileged rural areas to pursue careers in science and engineering. The central task of the grant combines experimental techniques and theoretical approaches to gain insight on inclusion-inclusion, inclusion-matrix, and inclusion-electric field interactions in judiciously selected nanocomposite systems. The expected benefit is that a fundamental understanding of interfacial interactions between nanoinclusions and polymers would constitute a major leap toward the development of polymer nanocomposites optimized for a functional performance. Structural materials with multiple functionalities have broad technological impact. This research plan aims to further the fundamental knowledge of these types of materials and advance our understanding of nanoinclusions/polymer interaction to control self-sensing and actuation while maintaining lightweight, strength and durability.

Effective start/end date3/15/072/29/12


  • National Science Foundation: $400,000.00


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