Work From Noise
We propose to develop new materials that harness directed activity from fluctuations (noise) to modify or control properties of material assemblies. Our goal is to rectify and channel non-equilibrium noise in mechanical, electrical, or fluid systems to achieve useful, controlled motion. This field has thus far concentrated on understanding collective behavior of biological entities such as the swarming of birds and growth of bacterial colonies. We will apply these ideas to materials that will be useful in a technological setting, e.g., a knot that tightens or loosens itself in the presence of ambient noise or structured granular particles whose shape causes them to either plug or unplug an opening in response to fluctuations in fluid flow. The applications to fluid and granular flow problems are far reaching. An example of how these principles may be applied are in the recent failed attempt to cap the BP oil-spill with a “top kill” capping. We anticipate center-level activities leading to new discoveries and applications for the packaging, transportation, or construction industries.
We have made significant progress on these activities through federal and industrial funding. Our work shows that we can control the activity of nearly identical objects to clump together, diffuse apart, or disperse violently depending on very small surface modifications in noisy environments. We will build on this expertise, and on the strength in various areas of soft condensed matter at UMass, to investigate the applicability of these principles also in systems made up of flexible elements such as thin filaments and sheets, thus making contact with the Foldtronics effort.