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Control of Reaction Fronts for Rapid Energy-Efficient Manufacturing of Multifunctional Polymers and Composites


Reaction-diffusion processes are versatile, yet underexplored methods for manufacturing that provide unique opportunities to control the spatial properties of materials, achieving order through broken symmetry. The mathematical formalism and derivation of equations coupling reaction and diffusion were presented in the seminal paper by Alan Turing [Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 237, 37,1952], which describes how random fluctuations can drive the emergence of pattern and structure from initial uniformity. Inspired by reaction-diffusion systems in nature, this talk describes a new manufacturing platform technology predicated on the exploitation of a self-propagating polymerization reaction occurring in a system undergoing reaction and diffusion of its components. The system uses the exothermic release of energy to provide a positive feedback to the reaction. In turn, this stimulates further exothermic energy release, and a self-propagating reaction “front” that rapidly moves through the material – a process called frontal polymerization. The self-sustained propagation of a reaction wave through the material gives rise to entirely new ways of manufacturing high performance composites using rapid, energy efficient methods at greatly reduced costs, including 3D printing of thermosetting polymers and composites. Controlling the reaction wave by simple thermal perturbations gives rise to symmetry breaking events that can enable complex, emergent pattern formation and control over growth, topology, and shape.


Nancy Sottos is the Swanlund Endowed Chair and Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She currently serves as leader of the Autonomous Materials Systems Group at the Beckman Institute and director of the University of Illinois spoke of the BP International Center for Advanced Materials. Inspired by autonomous function in biological systems, the Sottos group develops polymers and composites capable of self-healing and regeneration, self-reporting, and self-protection to improve reliability and extend material lifetime. Her current research interests focus on new bioinspired methods to manufacture these complex materials. Sottos’ research and teaching awards include the ONR Young Investigator Award, Scientific American’s SciAm 50 Award, the Hetényi Best Paper Award in Experimental Mechanics, the M.M. Frocht and B.J. Lazan Awards from the Society for Experimental Mechanics, the Daniel Drucker Eminent Faculty Award, an IChemE Global Research Award and the Society of Engineering Science Medal. She is a Fellow of the Society for Experimental Mechanics and the Society for Engineering Science.

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