Science and Engineering
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
This project will develop strategies for the controlled delivery of ultra-thin elastic films to the boundary between two fluids to impart well-defined mechanical, optical or chemical properties to that interface. These studies will give rise to a new class of solid surfactants where the elasticity of thin sheets will be exploited to tailor the properties of an interface in ways not available with traditional molecular or particulate surface agents such as detergents and emulsifiers. The major enabling insight is that a sheet, initially crumpled while suspended in one fluid, spontaneously and explosively unfurls at the surface of the fluid, acting as a surfactant between two immiscible fluids. To advance this approach, several scientific challenges must be tackled, including the dynamics of uncrumpling, the interactions between crumpled objects dispersed in a fluid, the elasticity of heterogeneous and anisotropic films, and the mechanics of an interface laden with a mosaic of elastic sheets. Solid surfactants could then be used to bandage leaks or cracks, to impart chemical function or isolation to an interface, to give mechanical rigidity to a fluid surface, or to shrink wrap drops. The team will employ high-speed microscopy, quantitative image analysis, advanced materials synthesis, computer simulation, and theoretical analysis to harness this range of applications.
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