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Seed Projects

NU-MRSEC supports innovative, high-risk seed projects that extend beyond the socpe of the IRG research.  Seed funding is designed to be short-term, thus allowing investigators to procure sufficient preliminary results to attract long-term funding either within the MRSEC (e.g., joining a pre-existing IRG or nucleating a new IRG) or from other external funding sources.

Seed 1: Thermoplastic Bio-Copolymers for Biodegradable and Recyclable Packaging

Cecile Chazot, Assistant Professor, Materials Science and Engineering

We currently lack approaches to scalably and controllably syn-thetize thermoplastics that combine the processability and recyclability of state-of-the-art syn-thetic polymers, with the thermal stability and biodegradability of biopolymers. The long-term research goal is to design a new class of recyclable and biodegradable copolymers based on synthetic polyester and bio-mass polymers, called thermoplastic bio-copolymers (TBio copolymers), and asso-ciated manufacturing pathways to establish structure-property-processing relationships linking macro-molecular chemistry, mechanical/barrier properties, and thermal processing history. Towards this goal, this seed proposal aims to develop TBio graft copolymers of PLA and chitosan that can be thermally processed into recyclable and biodegradable films with tailored mechanical and barrier properties.

Seed 2: Fatigue and Fracture of Protein Composite Hydrogels

Junsoo Kim, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Artificial biosystems are housed in an extracellular matrix, a protein hydrogel. The mechanical properties of artificial biosystems rely on the protein hydrogel. To provide sufficient durability, the protein hydrogel is required to have a high modulus to resist excessive swelling, high toughness to resist crack growth under monotonic load, and high fatigue threshold to resist crack growth under cyclic load. Although the toughness has been improved by adding sacrificial bonds into the polymer network, such effects disappear under cyclic load. For example, forming a double network increases its toughness by one to two orders of magnitude, but its fatigue threshold, reinforced or not, has remained the same. Also, the sacrificial bonds make hydrogels inelastic, causing a high hysteresis in stress-stretch curves, residual stretch, and delayed relaxation. Such inelastic behaviors are often not preferred in systems requiring consistent mechanical properties. Moreover, fatigue resistance has been barely studied in protein hydrogels. In this Seed project, we investigage how protein hydrogels can be greatly reinforced by compositing different natural proteins. We aim to develop fabrication processes that can highly entangle and crosslink long proteins. The dense entanglements will provide high swell-resistance despite the long length of proteins. We will investigate various natural proteins and conditions so that the hard-phase can be formed or dissolved on demand. 

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