Jamali Awarded Young Investigator Grant for Army Research on Colloidal Crystals

Safa Jamali

Safa Jamali, assistant professor, mechanical and industrial engineering (MIE), has been awarded a $360K, three-year grant from the Army Research Office Young Investigator Program for research on the synthetic creation of colloidal structures for new materials.

Jamali studies computational rheology—the science of how complex fluids flow—and uses modeling to examine the underlying structures that soft materials create when they move.

“Particulate systems—combinations of liquids and particles—are everywhere around us,” says Jamali. “For example, tiny particles within hand sanitizer form gel-like structures that are easily spread with a very small amount of force; however, designing materials that behave in this way is quite difficult.”

This funded research looks at high-tech particulate systems called colloidal crystals, which can be directed into specific lattices within a gel-like material that is useful in optical computing, photonic sensors, and novel display technologies. The problem, however, is that creating these colloidal gels is cost prohibitive.

“To ensure that colloidal crystals form into ordered structures with photonic properties, they have to be carefully directed using different techniques, such as magnetic or electric force,” says Jamali. “However, these are expensive solutions and can only be used in the lab to make small quantities of colloidal crystals, so they’re not yet viable to bring to market in a meaningful way.”

Jamali seeks a solution to this challenge by using the understanding of how particles behave under flow to form these colloidal structures more easily using divergent-convergent flow geometries and different frequencies, amplitudes, and applied deformations.

“Using existing knowledge of exactly how structures within soft materials break up or form in different flow geometries, we may be able to systematically create the structures we want,” says Jamali. “This would be a much cheaper way to produce colloidal crystals in much larger quantities—a significant step forward in high throughput technology.”

In the long run, he hopes to use physics-informed machine learning to design the specific protocols needed to create colloidal structures that can become materials for a range of high-tech applications.

Jamali’s collaborators for this research include Randall Erb, associate professor, MIE, who has expertise in additive manufacturing of particulate systems; and Lilian Hsiao, assistant professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State University, who will test Jamali’s experimental systems to benchmark the team’s computational efforts and inform future phases of modeling.

“This is a form of fundamental research—science for the sake of science,” says Jamali. “Our end game is to understand how we can manipulate flow to create colloidal structures that will allow us to create novel layer-by-layer fabricated materials.”

The ARO and others are interested in this type of research because it could pave the way to create new materials down the road. One example could be technologies that can improve the way military vehicles transport heavy loads over different terrains, such as wet sand or mud.

Related Faculty: Safa Jamali, Randall Erb

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering