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Mather receives grant to collaborate on 'smart' materials research with General Motors

January 04, 2011

Ariel DuChene
(315) 443-2546

Patrick T. Mather, director of Syracuse Biomaterials Institute (SBI) and Milton and Ann Stevenson professor of biomedical and chemical engineering in Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), has been awarded a three-year grant of $319,980 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to collaborate with General Motors (GM) on creating “smart” materials to be utilized in the production of automobiles.

matherThis unique university-industry team will use its research to inform both new smart material phenomena for future research at SU, as well as new product development opportunities for GM. Research in smart materials has the potential to simplify mechanical designs utilized in diverse fields, from manufacturing to mechanical devices to packaging.

This project will specifically explore a subset of smart materials and shape memory polymers (SMPs). SMPs function as actuators by first forming a heated article into a temporary shape and cooling. Then, by using a second stimulus (i.e. heat), the article can spring back to its original shape and, in doing so, perform some mechanical action, such as closing a fastener.

Shape memory alloys (SMA) are currently being used in the manufacturing of vehicles. For example, some car engines utilize a heat-activated vent system that triggers vents to open or close based on the temperature in the vehicle. However, SMAs are expensive to produce and there are limitations to what they can be used for.

SMPs are less expensive and offer greater flexibility of use. Additionally, research is showing that SMPs are not limited to just one shape modification, but that triple shape memory is possible. One of the areas being explored is paint scratching, and whether utilizing a stimulus can return a paint scratch back to an unblemished surface.

A unique aspect of this grant is that GM and SU will share a graduate student throughout the research process. Chris Iverson, a first-year Ph.D. candidate, will spend academic semesters working in Mather’s lab, and spend the summer working in GM’s tech center in Warren, Mich.

“We’re really excited about this highly integrated collaboration with GM on smart polymers,” says Mather. “The unique NSF GOALI program is enabling us to share ideas and facilities in the context of basic research and graduate student training. As a result, our research will be a synthesis of distinct approaches with sharp focus on application-driven materials requirements.”

Ingrid Rousseau, senior researcher in composite structures at GM, is the co-principal investigator on the NSF grant. She is a Ph.D. alumnus of Mather’s research group, graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2005.

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