Self-Assembly in Space

UD's Eric Furst is leading one of five projects recently selected to conduct fluid dynamics investigations in the International Space Station’s U.S. National Laboratory

Eric Furst is leading one of five projects recently selected to conduct fluid dynamics investigations in the International Space Station’s U.S. National Laboratory

NSF grant to support research on colloidal materials

The University of Delaware’s Eric Furst is leading one of five projects recently selected to conduct fluid dynamics investigations in the International Space Station’s U.S. National Laboratory. The program is jointly administered by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF will award $1.5 million total in funding for the selected projects to advance fundamental science and engineering knowledge through microgravity inquiry. Furst’s project, “Kinetics of Nanoparticle Self-Assembly in Directing Fields,” will use facilities onboard the space station (ISS) to study the assembly of ellipsoidal magnetic particles in the presence of a controlled magnetic field. A professor in UD’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Furst is particularly interested in colloidal materials — mixtures in which small particles called colloids are uniformly distributed throughout another substance. These materials range from common household items like mayonnaise, jelly and paint to high-tech applications in medicine, photovoltaics and communications. “The number of functional materials manufactured by assembly of colloidal particles is growing,” says Furst. “With this work, we will be controlling assembly by applying external fields that affect the motion of the particles and their organization.” “Functional materials are fascinating because their mission is to perform in a certain way while basically remaining invisible,” he says. “The cool part for me as a scientist and engineer is revealing that magic to people, but the science behind it can be hard to explain.”
Furst says that some of the simplest “smart materials” are those that flow on demand. “These materials have what’s known as yield stress,” he says. “It’s what keeps toothpaste on our toothbrushes and ketchup on our fries.” “Yield stress is a commonly engineered property in colloidal systems,” he adds. “We’re seeking to use more complex colloidal building blocks to engineer more sophisticated properties, while also enabling new routes to manufacturing those materials by self-assembly.” The colloidal materials examined in this project could serve as building blocks for phononic bandgap materials that control the propagation of sound and heat, ultra-low thermal conductivity coatings, and photonic crystals with rich structural color. In announcing the awards…Read full article

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