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Leang and colleagues receive $450K NSF grant for IPMC-based sensors

Collaborative Research: Microengineered electroactive polymer strain sensors towards soft self-powered wearable cyber-physical systems

Investigators: M. Aureli (PI, UNR); co-PIs: K. K. Leang (Utah) and Yiliang Liao (UNR)

Project period: 9/1/2018 – 8/31/2021

Goal and Objectives: This project aims at establishing a new class of electroactive materials with superior multiphysics properties towards soft, self-powered, high sensitivity strain sensor applications in cyber-physical systems. Ionic polymer metal composites are electroactive soft composite materials that comprise a thin electrically charged polymer membrane, plated with noble metal electrodes, and infused with a charged solution. Due to their combined self-powered sensor behavior and soft mechanical characteristics, ionic polymer metal composites emerge as an ideal candidate for soft strain sensor applications. However, inconsistent and uncontrollable morphology of their polymer-metal interfaces poses the challenges of limited sensitivity, poor property control, and non-versatile mode of operation. So far, these challenges have limited the use of these materials in critical engineering applications. It is hypothesized that the multiphysics sensing properties of ionic polymer metal composites can be dramatically enhanced by tailored 3D-structured microengineered polymer-metal interfaces. To test this hypothesis, this research will develop a novel fabrication process integrating electroless chemical reduction with inkjet printing to prepare ionic polymer metal composites with microengineered interfaces. These interfaces are responsible for inhomogeneous strain developed in response to a mechanical stimulus and its subsequent electrochemical transduction and sensing performance. The main goal of this research is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the structure-property relationships in microengineered ionic polymer metal composites that determine enhanced strain sensing performance.