SOFT-MECH aims to shed light on the contact mechanics of soft materials, i.e. on the interactions between a “soft body” and its environment. This goal is motivated by the large variety of applications involving contact between soft rough bodies, which require an optimized design, and hence accurate knowledge of interfacial phenomena, in terms of stresses, friction and wear. Components of interest include not only “traditional” products such as tires, seals and dampers but also a large variety of soft polymers used in profusion to achieve cost and size reduction, increased efficiency and biodegradability, making this project highly relevant to many new focus areas, such as bioengineering, nanotechnology and “green” technology, a key to the ERA quest for excellence and growth.
The use and development of soft materials is partly hindered by the difficulty in accurately predicting their mechanical behavior. Phenomena, such as hyperelasticity, viscoelasticity and porosity, make engineering design complicated and problematic. To address this unresolved issue, the applicant will develop advanced and rigorous numerical methodologies to model soft contact mechanics, accounting for both surface roughness and the presence of different phases (i.e. solid, liquids and gases) at the interface. This will be combined with an extensive experimental validation programme and the use of a range of novel techniques, such as in-contact thermal microscopy and high speed imaging.
This challenging proposal is enabled by the unique set of modeling and analytical skills possessed by the applicant in conjunction with the world-leading expertise and facilities available at the Host Institution. The success of this industrially relevant project will produce a step change in the deployment of soft materials, with the consequent enhancement of the European competitiveness in the forthcoming Soft Matter Era and the establishment of the applicant as a research leader in the field.
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