Overview  ·  Specific Projects (2012)

Granular Media: Mesoscopic Physics on a Laboratory Scale

Granular materials, complex nonlinear pattern formation, and control of complex patterns are at the forefront of our understanding of collective behavior. The study of granular materials provides insight into poorly understood and vitally important industrial problems, and an unprecedented opportunity to investigate experimentally the theoretical underpinnings of statistical physics. In granular systems, collective behavior and pattern formation can occur with a small number of macroscopic particles. This property creates a unique opportunity to gain a fundamental understanding of mesoscopic systems, such as colloids, lubrication, and nanoscale porous media. Pattern formation in granular systems illustrates the profound link between granular flows and ordinary fluids and is a cornerstone of our research.

Biologically-Inspired Micro-robotics

Organisms adapted for motion on beaches and in deserts show amazing mobility in a variety of surface conditions. Long term adaptation of these animals to shifting sand provides a great opportunity to understand the optimal general principles of legged locomotion. Nature has not developed wheeled motion, and legged animals like spiders, crabs, and lizards provide an existence proof that rapid locomotion in flowing environments is possible. There is increasing evidence that motion on complex terrain rely on both active and passive control. To that end we are developing micro-robots with legs that are based on principles of real organisms to leverage the passive mechanical aspects of real organisms. The long term goal is to produce autonomous robots of 1-10cm in size, that can run on general terrain at speed up to 10 body-lengths-per-second. We are currently working on anatomically accurate leg design using 3D printing, for rapid prototyping, and nitinol memory wire as muscles.

Patterns: Competition and Control

The study of pattern formation has produced an understanding of simple bifurcations to single-patterned states in spatially extended systems. Patterns in nature, however, display a complexity which defies this basic understanding. We will push the study of pattern formation to a new level of complexity using novel experimental techniques to study systems which combine large numbers of spatial modes with pattern competition and spatiotemporal inhomogeneous forcing. Further, we will use spatiotemporal perturbations to control patterns and stabilize them beyond their normal range of stability. This is a prerequisite step for control of complex pattern formation in industrial processes, and control of natural systems such as weather, evolution, and thought.

Specific Projects for 2012

We need students to work on the experimental projects listed below, which are planned for 2012. In addition we have a number of molecular dynamics and continuum simulation project which could be explored. If you are interested please contact Mark Shattuck.

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