Profs. Blair, Del Gado, and Urbach win a 3 year grant from the National Science Foundation

A, B} Spatial map of dynamical heterogeneities obtained in simulations of model colloidal gels. [1,2]
C) 3D rendering of a confocal microscopy image of a part of a colloidal gel taken in the Blair lab

Profs. Blair, Del Gado, and Urbach won a 3 year grant of $691,996 from the National Science Foundation for a combined experimental and computational investigation of the role of microscopic rotations, fluctuations, and friction in an important class of particle gels. Soft solids formed from gels of particles are found in a wide range of materials, with applications ranging from consumer products to bio-manufacturing and additive manufacturing. Despite their importance, we lack a fundamental understanding of the connection between the microscopic structure and dynamics of the particles and the macroscopic mechanical properties of the gel. As a result, we have only limited capacity to predict basic properties like gel stiffness and ultimate strength even with detailed knowledge of the particle properties and of the solvent in which they are immersed. This, in turn, limits our ability to engineer gel properties. In this work the Georgetown team will use a suite of novel tools to reveal, for the first time, the dynamics of rotations of individual particles, and use this information to determine how the particles assemble into networks that support forces and determine the stiffness and strength of the gels. They will use these insights to develop robust pathways to engineering materials with defined properties and support the design of tunable and adaptive materials for applications such as self-healing, stimuli-responsive materials, and materials for 3D printing. In addition, this project will support efforts to harness soft materials to address the profound challenges of sustainability by strengthening contacts between the soft matter research community and policy makers.

1:  J. Colombo, A. Widmer-Cooper and E. Del Gado, Phys. Rev. Lett 110, 198301 (2013)
2:  J. Colombo and E. Del Gado, Journal of Rheology 58, 1089 (2014)