While prototypes of materials that self-seal cracks in buildings, roadways, airplanes, spacecraft and other devices are now under development, engineers still face the challenge of turning the multiple physical and mechanical processes of these materials into mathematical models for use by developers.
Two University of Illinois at Chicago engineers -- Eduard Karpov, assistant professor of civil and materials engineering and Elisa Budyn, UIC assistant professor of mechanical and bioengineering -- are up to the task. They have just received a three-year, $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop novel methods involving description of the relevant multi-physics phenomena that can be used for computer-based design and property predictions of self-healing materials and bone tissue.
"To model different kinds of physical processes together within a single numerical framework is a big challenge," said Karpov. The goal is to develop a theoretical and computational framework to write modeling software used by engineers and developers.
"The main questions include how to couple chemical reactions and the mechanics of materials," Karpov said. "For example, crack propagation inside a material and capillary transport of the healing agent along the crack."
"Another question is how biological tissue, such as bone, heals when stimulated mechanically," said Budyn. "For example, it has been observed that bone can grow inside the pores of an implant."
Karpov is a specialist in a field called multiphysics modeling, which examines multiple concurrent physical phenomena within a single numerical framework. Because of the intrinsic multi-physics nature of the behavior and performance of these new self-healing materials, the usual theories for material mechanics are not applicable.
Budyn is a specialist in biomechanics and fracture mechanics, which models the mechanics of biological tissues and their failure.
Karpov and Budyn's research will help in writing new rules of the game.
Self-healing materials are inspired by such biological processes as bone ingrowths, skin wounds and muscle tears that heal by themselves. "We have a lot to learn from nature," Budyn said.
Understanding biological tissues is key to the ability to engineer materials such as metals, concrete and polymer composites with self-healing properties that promise to minimize the possibility of catastrophic failure in devices such as airplanes and spacecraft, or in hard-to-repair areas such as electronic circuit boards or human medical implants.
"There are so many practical applications," Karpov said. "It's very exciting."
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