Our projects are about integrating “functional” materials into larger structures, without damaging the material or the structure. Some examples of functions we want the materials to have are exerting forces, absorbing specific wavelengths, or turning a mechanical stress into an electronic signal. That won’t happen if we melted the material during installation (a real danger when sealing gold nanoparticles into a polymer structure) or if the material destroys the structure that holds on to it. Brian needed to make sure his actuators could output useful forces without melting the plastic of a 3D printed robot body. Thanks to our neighbors at FirstBuild, he was able to check on the temperature of the actuators he made using their thermal imaging camera. After that, he went ahead and made sure the grad students were in good shape.
Group meeting nearly overwhelmed this table at FirstBuild. Jaz brought new data and Shaf had a couple of new microfluidic devices; both projects involve membranes. Brian demoed his system for routing fiber actuators using a laser-cut template. Added to the pile: hollow fiber membranes from our collaborator at UK and a mechanism designed to work with an array of machine-installed high tensile strength fibers. Materials like these often can’t be processed directly by the key low-cost rapid prototyping methods of laser-cutting or 3D printing because of their thermal properties. Structures like nanopores are lost when they’re melted, while other materials (like metals) won’t even flow at desktop 3D printer temperatures. We’re working to make sure materials with useful micro and nanostructures–including gold nanoparticles, nanoporous membranes and micro/nano structured fibers with electrical and optical functions–can get out of the lab and into the rapid prototyping ecosystem.