While prototypes of materials that self-seal cracks in buildings, roadways, airplanes, spacecraft and other devices are now under development, engineers still face the challenge of turning the multiple physical and mechanical processes of these materials into mathematical models for use by developers.
Eduard Kaprov, assistant professor of civil and materials engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is up to the task. He has just received a three-year, $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop novel methods involving description of the relevant multi-physics phenomena that can be used for computer-based design and property predictions of self-healing materials.
"To model different kinds of physical processes together within a single numerical framework is a big challenge," said Karpov. His goal is to develop a theoretical and computational framework to write modeling software used by engineers and developers.
"The main questions include how to couple chemical reactions and the mechanics of materials," Karpov said. "For example, crack propagation inside a material and capillary transport of the healing agent along the crack."
Karpov is a specialist in a field called multiphysics modeling, which examines multiple concurrent physical phenomena within a single numerical framework. Because of the intrinsic multi-physics nature of the behavior and performance of these new self-healing materials, the usual theories for material mechanics are not applicable. Karpov's research will help in writing new rules of the game.
Self-healing materials are inspired by such biological processes as skin wounds or muscle tears that heal by themselves. Engineered materials such as metals, concrete and polymer composites with self-healing properties promise to minimize the possibility of catastrophic failure in devices such as airplanes and spacecraft, or in hard-to-repair areas such as electronic circuit boards or human medical implants.
"There are so many practical applications," he said. "It's very exciting."
Karpov's co-principal investigator on the grant is Elisa Budyn, UIC assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering.