Emerging research opportunities in living multifunctional materials

10 March 2023
Zoubeida Ounaies, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Materials (LiMC2) at Penn State
Zoubeida Ounaies, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Materials (LiMC2) at Penn State. Credit: Penn State

Notable breakthroughs in materials research include working with bioinspired materials; smart, adaptive, and responsive materials; self-healing materials; and the redesign of living cells through synthetic biology. Work is underway to develop materials with living attributes, such as resilience, adaptability, sensing and self-powering, while enhancing their sustainability.

At SPIE Smart Structures + Nondestructive Evaluation, SPIE Fellow Zoubeida Ounaies of Penn State defined “living multifunctional materials” and discussed emerging research opportunities in this growing field. She will also present recent research at the Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Materials (LiMC2), where a holistic approach to living materials seeks to bring together team members from science, engineering, arts, social sciences, and ethics.

What are some of your responsibilities as professor of mechanical engineering and director of the LiMC2 at Penn State?
As professor of mechanical engineering, I conduct research and lead a research group, made up of graduate students and undergraduate students, in the area of mechanics of responsive polymers. I also teach undergraduate and graduate courses in mechanical engineering. Finally, I am also active in various service activities at department, college, and university levels.

What are some of your favorite aspects of those roles?
My favorite part of my multiple roles is the research focus: collaborating on research ideas for proposals with other colleagues; problem-solving and analyzing research data with students in my own research groups; and writing papers with my students and collaborators.

What led to your interest in working with smart structures?
As a student, I attended a lecture on smart (piezoelectric) ceramics by Dr. Eric Cross at Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Cross described the coupling between electric and mechanical domains in piezoelectricity and showed examples of sensing and actuation. That lecture inspired me to want to do my research with piezoelectric materials. 

How would you define “living multifunctional materials?”
By “living” materials, we refer to the life-like attributes that some materials possess such as self-healing, sensing, learning, actuation, and self-powering, among others.  Researchers are seeking to integrate these different aspects in a single materials system, one that leverages the adaptive response, self-replicating potential, and robustness of biological systems for the programmed assembly and modulation of novel materials.

Read more about Zoubeida Ounaies' work with smart materials at Penn State.

Enjoy this article?
Get similar news in your inbox
Get more stories from SPIE
Recent News
Sign in to read the full article
Create a free SPIE account to get access to
premium articles and original research