University of Kentucky materials engineering assistant professor Jonathan Pham has received two grants from the National Science Foundation. One will fund investigation into microscale friction and the other to better understand the mechanics of dynamic hydrogel interfaces. Combined, the awards total approximately $525,000. Pham joined the faculty of the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at UK in 2017.
Soft Materials Friction at Smaller Length Scales (abstract)
“Although macroscale friction has been studied for centuries, the mechanism for sliding on soft surfaces, such as rubbers and gels, remains elusive. Moreover, when the size scale of contact between soft surfaces becomes small, liquid-like characteristics arise and it is unclear if solid or liquid descriptions are appropriate, limiting the design of soft surfaces. This award supports fundamental research that overcomes current challenges in measuring and describing friction of soft materials at the microscale. In addition to promoting scientific advancement, this new knowledge is important for a broad range of applications towards national health and prosperity. For example, insights from this work are expected to afford design guidelines for soft biomaterials, resulting in advanced biotechnologies and healthcare. Knowledge is also expected to offer routes to designing low-friction coatings to mitigating energy losses due to frictional drag for manufacturing or transportation applications. Additionally, the project will provide opportunities to educate and train graduate and undergraduate students in the cross-disciplinary areas of micromechanics, surface science, and materials science, through research in the PI's lab, with a focus on underrepresented students in STEM.”
Linking Chemistry to the Mechanics of Dynamic Hydrogel Interfaces (abstract)
"Soft hydrogel interfaces are essential for high-technology applications, from synthetic tissues and medical adhesives, to commodity products, such as contact lenses. However, the majority of hydrogels are limited to static properties, hindering advanced material functions. This award supports fundamental research that aims to advance knowledge on how to control dynamic interfaces enabled by dynamic bonds in hydrogels, and relate macroscopic to microscopic mechanical behavior. The project takes advantage of expert resources and facilities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where the PI and his collaborators will focus on synthesizing new dynamic hydrogels and characterizing their mechanical properties. The resources available in soft matter at MIT will play a critical role in synthesis and characterization of these hydrogels. In addition to advancing scientific knowledge, successful development of dynamic hydrogels is expected to afford a platform for new biomaterials to advance national health. New lasting collaborations will be developed between the PI and hosts, which will strengthen partnerships between the University of Kentucky (UK) and MIT, leading to a stronger program in soft materials at UK."