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H2020

MICACT Report Summary

Project ID: 641822
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MICACT (MICroACTuators)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The EC MSCA-ETN project Microactuators (MICACT) project http://www.micact.eu is training a new generation of multidisciplinary engineers and material scientists focus on miniaturized low cost soft devices for applications like medicine, biomedicine, environmental monitoring, IoT devices and other technologies which already have impact and will even more influence our everyday life in near future.
Electroactive polymers (EAP) are materials that can change shape or stiffness in response to electrical stimuli, and can sense mechanical and/or environmental stimuli. These polymeric materials are mechanically flexible (can be stretched to twice their initial size). Their properties include low density, a high grade of processability, scalability, microfabrication readiness and, in most cases, low cost. A new broad range of applications opens with micro EAPs for which large strains and forces are necessary.
The network will provide ESRs multidisciplinary training in materials science, microfabrication technology, control theory, applications and industry experience. It also provides the soft skills and network of contacts in academia and industry to launch their R&D careers.
The main objectives of the research programme are:
To provide ESRs with a deep understanding of miniaturized polymer actuators, modelling methods, fabrication techniques, characterization tools, and novel device architectures;
To improve polymer actuator and sensor architectures to improve the performance and lifetime of miniaturized transducers, including self-sensing and self-commutation.
To develop novel microactuators and architectures for miniaturized soft robotics, including energy harvesters.
To investigate materials that allow reliable low voltage operation and have a long lifetime, for further successful use in industrial applications.
To develop lumped-parameter electromechanical, physics- and electrochemistry-based models to allow for accelerated design and optimization for a range of applications.
To achieve the overall objective and the sub-objectives, this research programme has been divided into 4 Work Packages (WP’s): dielectric materials, ionic materials, microfabrication technologies and prototyping of devices.

As a first accomplishment MICACT should stress out the extensive training about soft skills for our fellows. The network has already provided them training in commercialization, scientific writing, presentation skills, startup building, business accelerators and gender issues.

On a technical level, the ESRs have demonstrated a great deal of innovation, with results that push forward the state of the art in microfabrication technology, material science and control theory of soft transducers, and have been widely recognized in our scientific community for example in journals like RSC Advances, Advanced Functional Materials, Journal of Visualized Experiments, etc.

For example one fellow Xiaobin Ji developed a dielectric elastomer based actuator with full actuation strain at only 150V, on a 1.3 µm thick silicone layer. So the tenfold reduction in drive voltage has already been achieved, which is both a scientific and a business case breakthrough. One fellow Manav Tyagi has developed new micromanufacturing methods of ionic EAP microactuators with easy patterning. He developed a simple and cost-effective method for the patterning and fabrication of IEAP microactuators that does not rely on classical photolithography but on molds to fabricate the microactuators. This allows for much lower cost production, and hence to applications of polymer actuators to a much broader range of fields.
Another fellow Nguyen Ngoc Tan was able to establish a word Bond Graph model in which the three subsystems have been linked: an electrical model, electro-mechanical coupling, and a mechanical model. It is vitally important to have models based on basic principles to learn to control microdevices in different environments including in close contact with humans.

All the fellows have attended two training schools: one on dielectric EAPs, and one on ionic EAPs, with talks both by leading experts in the field, as well as sessions on transverse and soft skills. As an outcome of the training schools fellows have state-of-the art knowhow about several EAP material properties, knowhow about fabrication and characterization methods, as well as basic knowledge of key modelling strategies for control.

The network is training the 15 early stage researchers in areas of miniaturized polymeric materials and devices. The 21 institutions host and actively participate in the fellow's training. Full list is accessible at http://www.micact.eu/index.php/consortium .

We have organized 3 outreach events for wider public mainly targeted to young people to encourage them to choose their career path in high-tech and science. Our fellows have presented their work to the scientific community in more than 30 presentations at conferences and workshops. We issue quarterly newsletter about scientific achievements of our fellows.
MICACT Coordinator: prof Alvo Aabloo, IMS lab, Institute of Technology, University of Tartu, Estonia.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

MICACT Consortium has recruited 15 early stage researchers into 14 institutions all over the Europe. For example they work at decreasing the applied voltage in case if dielectric materials, integration of actuation and sensing into same device, improvement of several microfabrication methods suitable for specific materials and applications. A significant effort has been devoted to development of physical, electrochemical and lumped parameter models.
Some notable results are presented in network newsletter (see attached figures) but also scientific publications (see www.micact.eu).
The network has organized 2 training schools: Miniaturized DEAPs (See http://www.micact.eu/index.php/events/training-schools/training-school-1) and another on modelling and ionic materials (see http://www.micact.eu/index.php/events/training-schools/training-school-2 ). In conjunction of each training school we have organized outreach events.
During the Training School on Dielectric Elastomer Transducers in Neuchâtel, a full-day outreach session for local high school students (about 55) was organized (in Neuchâtel and then in Geneva), to explain what “artificial muscles” are, and what a research career is like.
During the Training School on Modelling and Ionic EAPs in Tartu, an half-day outreach session in a local gymnasium was organized (32 participants), to demonstrate the “artificial muscles” in action. Besides the seminar, a small hands-on session for soft robotics was organized.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Open Day was organized in Tallinn in connection to the First Lego League national championships. ESRs and PhD students gave an open lecture and a set of hands-on sessions for 161 school pupils.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The researchers have developed new technologies for smart textile, novel microfabrication methodologies and self-sensing devices based on electrochemical models. MICACT is on track to improve the career perspectives (in academia and in industry) of 15 young researchers by training them at the forefront of research in the field of smart soft systems made of EAP microactuators for advanced miniaturized devices. Besides professional training MICACT provides training of soft skills. The network provides fellows opportunity of training by organizing outreach events for young generations.

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