Using light to change the makeup of plastics

Jul 03, 2014 by Kathleen Haughney

A FAMU-FSU College of Engineering professor is using rays of light to control the shape of a special type of plastic, a project that could have long-term implications for manufacturing, solar energy harvesting, aerospace flow control and robotic actuators.

Mechanical engineering Associate Professor William Oates is in the midst of a four-year project supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to test the possibilities of how can change the shape of plastics and how those changes could help robots perform different tasks, like grip materials through adhesion. It is a collaborative project with a colleague in chemical engineering, Associate Professor Anant Paravastu.

"We are using light to control the structure of the material," Oates said. "You can basically make the plastic bend and twist through a special type of photochemical reaction."

The work is being funded by a $580,000 grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

But, the process of exploration is done on a very small scale.

Oates and his graduate students use a (LED) and focus it on a tiny piece of plastic. The piece is currently only about as thick as an insect wing.

"The light is a little brighter than the sun," Oates said.

The work on this project originally started in 2009 when Oates won a Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that provided him with some initial funding and has been extended through an NSF CAREER grant.

His work caught the attention of both the Air Force and other researchers at Florida State who were working on robots to see how they could collaborate.

"It's great because I have so many colleagues working on different projects and sometimes our work can overlap," Oates said.

Oates' work may also result in the creation of cilia, the tiny hair-like structures on cells that are used for movement, biological adhesion, and to gather food. Oates and Ken Hanson, an assistant professor in chemistry, are working with a start-up company to see if it is possible to use a 3D printer to make these adaptive materials and structures respond to light in a much more efficient and novel manner.

"Hopefully, we'll begin to see our technology transition to novel applications in the years ahead," Oates said. "There have been many other 'smart materials' utilized in commercial applications such as ultrasound devices using piezoelectric materials and bio-medical stents using . The use of light to control the shape of a structure provides an entirely new opportunity to manipulate engineering structures without using wires or heat to control the material."

Explore further: Eating organic food significantly lowers pesticide exposure

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Snap to attention: Polymers that react and move to light

Nov 08, 2013

Microvehicles and other devices that can change shape or move with no power source other than a beam of light may be possible through research led by the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers are investigating ...

Recommended for you

Unleashing the power of quantum dot triplets

1 hour ago

Quantum computers have yet to materialise. Yet, scientists are making progress in devising suitable means of making such computers faster. One such approach relies on quantum dots—a kind of artificial atom, ...

Chemist develops X-ray vision for quality assurance

1 hour ago

It is seldom sufficient to read the declaration of contents if you need to know precisely what substances a product contains. In fact, to do this you need to be a highly skilled chemist or to have genuine ...

The future of ultrashort laser pulses

1 hour ago

Rapid advances in techniques for the creation of ultra-short laser pulses promise to boost our knowledge of electron motions to an unprecedented level.

IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

18 hours ago

Who will lay claim to having the world's largest particle smasher?. Could China become the collider capital of the world? Questions tease answers, following a news story in Nature on Tuesday. Proposals for ...

The physics of lead guitar playing

20 hours ago

String bends, tapping, vibrato and whammy bars are all techniques that add to the distinctiveness of a lead guitarist's sound, whether it's Clapton, Hendrix, or BB King.

User comments : 0