Mimicking elastic biological materials

Our group studies the dynamics of latch-mediated spring actuated systems in biology and engineering. We take bioinspiration from latch-spring systems in biology such as the mantis shrimp, which can outperform current engineering design in terms of repeatable, ultrafast movements. We are currently studying trade-offs in elastic materials that quickly release elastic energy. Not only do these materials need to store a high energy density (with a high modulus and maximum elongation), they also need to release that energy efficiently (with high resilience or a small loss modulus). 

This past summer, Carolyn Du ('22) and Halie Kim ('22) synthesized polymer networks with varying architecture (comb and bottlebrush elastomers). Theoretically, Carolyn and Halie have found that these polymer networks should have different mechanical properties. This semester, we are looking to test the mechanical properties of these polymers in the lab. You will get to learn from Carolyn and Halie about how to synthesize these materials and how to perform different types of material testing relevant to energy storage and release. Future directions of the project include creating a map of energy efficiency performance as a function of polymer network parameters (e.g. spacing between cross-links, length of polymer backbone and side-chains). Other directions could also include the mimicking of the high-rate properties of specific biological materials (e.g. tendon). 

Essay prompt: No essay required. You can leave the essay portion blank

Name of research group, project, or lab
Why join this research group or lab?

You will be part of a team of 6-8 HMC students working on a set of related projects at the intersection between physics, materials science, biology, and robotics. You will collaborate with other research groups in these disciplines across the country and you will get the opportunity to regularly present your work to a larger team. Collectively, we are working on understanding these ultra-fast elastic systems, which will have impact in the fields of evolutionary biology and micro-robotic design.

Representative publication
Logistics Information:
Project categories
Materials Science
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

Students who have taken (or are planning to take this year) materials science courses (e.g. Materials Engineering, Biomaterials) would find this experience particularly relevant.  

[optional] A student who is interested in potentially continuing on the project next Spring and Summer (for paid summer research) would be great!

Time commitment
Fall - Part Time
Spring - Part Time
Academic Credit
Number of openings
Techniques learned

material synthesis, experimental design, mechanical properties testing, data analysis

Contact Information:
Mentor name
Mark Ilton
Mentor email
Name of project director or principal investigator
Mark Ilton
Email address of project director or principal investigator
2 sp. | 5 appl.
Hours per week
Fall - Part Time (+1)
Fall - Part TimeSpring - Part Time
Project categories
Materials Science (+2)
EngineeringPhysicsMaterials Science