College researchers investigate ‘smart’ materials in NSF study

Zofia Rybkowski

Ergun Akleman

Negar Kalantar

The characteristics of new “smart” materials that, with further development, could harvest energy, water and air when embedded in a building’s exterior, are the focus of a two-year, $240,000 National Science Foundation study undertaken by faculty and doctoral students from Texas A&M University’s colleges of architecture and engineering.

In the exploratory, multidisciplinary project, researchers in architecture, construction science, visualization, materials science and engineering will test the performance of “smart” materials that alter their form in response to changes in air pressure or temperature while embedded in traditional and prototype materials used for building exteriors, or skins. In altered states, the motion of these materials could, for example, generate electricity.

The study will investigate shape memory alloys, bi-metallic strips, piezoelectric materials and stimuli-responsive polymers.

These materials, now in early stages of development, could eventually perform the functions of traditional building infrastructure, said Zofia Rybkowski, assistant professor of construction science, and the project’s principal investigator.

“Imagine buildings with smart skins that can perform the tasks of today’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems,” said Rybkowski. “This is a futuristic proposition, but a new generation of smart materials that can interact with the environment is starting to make this kind of vision feasible.”

The project is funded by the NSF’s Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research program, which supports research on untested, but potentially transformative, ideas or approaches. EAGER funds are used for projects that involve radically different approaches, new expertise, or novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives.

Collaborating with Rybkowski on the smart materials study are Ergun Akleman, professor of visualization, Negar Kalantar, assistant professor of architecture, Tahir Cagin, professor of materials science and engineering, and Terry Creasy, associate professor of materials science and engineering.

posted October 23, 2015