Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Why Chemomechanical Design of Materials is Critical to Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure

March 30, 2010
Krystyn Van Vliet, Materials Science and Engineering

Our group studies the strong coupling between chemical and mechanical states of material surfaces and interfaces. This chemomechanical coupling is most pronounced in materials with high interfacial surface area, such as polymeric nanocomposites and cementitous composites. In the transportation industry, paradigm shifts in the design of key material platforms is considered unlikely, given the relatively low cost and dominant manufacturers in this safety-critical industry.   Here, I will discuss the opportunities that exist in re-examining this premise that infrastructural materials work too well and for too little money to seek breakthroughs in material performance or environmental burden. I will discuss several case studies on structural polymer nanocomposites where attention to the interphase region between particles and matrix has enabled new means to tune mechanical energy dissipation in both glassy and elastomeric materials; and on cementious composites where focus on the chemomechanics of the nanoscale hydrates has suggested exciting means to improve structural stiffness while decreasing associated carbon dioxide emissions. In both systems, the integration of computational modeling, validation experiments, and industrial partners has been key to rapid innovation in the design of sustainable infrastructure materials for transportation and related applications.

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