Smart materialsPublished on 26.11.2020

Funding program to spark groundbreaking research

An Adolphe Merkle Institute researcher has once again been awarded a Spark grant by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Dr. Stephen Schrettl and his team will investigate innovative composites that respond to external stimuli.

Materials that respond and adapt to changes in their environment in a useful way have great potential for a variety of industrial applications. Examples of such innovative stimuli-responsive materials include those that adapt their mechanical properties as needed, some that release an active ingredient on demand, or even others that signal wear and tear before a failure. Stephen Schrettl is a group leader in the Weder Polymer Chemistry & Materials group and plans to develop an attractive, conceptually simple, and versatile approach to prepare such materials. To achieve this, cargo-bearing microcapsules will be incorporated into a polymer, and the resulting composite materials can respond to stimuli by releasing the cargo from the capsules, which can be used to achieve a range of responsive behaviors.

However, currently available capsules are incompatible with standard polymer processing methods, which constitutes a significant barrier for their use. The goal of Schrettl’s project is to develop capsules that are stable enough to withstand the rigors of processing, while also performing the designated task of rupturing and releasing a cargo after integration into a polymer. To achieve this, the project will explore the preparation of capsules with properties akin to those of rubber particles. If the concept can be successfully demonstrated, it will help establish a technologically simple, useful, and versatile platform for the creation of a variety of composites including, but not limited to, stimuli-responsive materials. The approach is also expected to directly enable industrial manufacturing of these materials.

The aim of the Spark program is to fund the rapid testing or development of new scientific approaches, methods, theories, standards, and ideas for applications for example. It is intended for projects that show unconventional thinking and introduce a unique approach. The focus is on promising ideas of high originality, relying on no or very little preliminary data that are unlikely to be financed by other available funding schemes. Applicants can request between CHF 50,000 and CHF 100,000 for a project duration of six to twelve months.