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Training in Bio-Inspired Design of Smart Adhesive Materials

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BioSmartTrainee (Training in Bio-Inspired Design of Smart Adhesive Materials)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

The last half century has seen a tremendous advancement in adhesives technology and has led to widespread replacement of mechanical fasteners with adhesive bonds. Bonding to wet, rough and fouled surfaces, however, remains challenging and adhesive technology is rarely applied for bonding in wet conditions.
Therefore, a need exists to educate young researchers in this interdisciplinary research field of controlling adhesion under wet conditions and to bridge the gap between the fundamentals of underwater adhesives and their practice.
The BioSmartTrainee research project aimed at the development of bio-inspired strategies to control adhesion to wet surfaces to get deeper insight in the mechanism of adhesion in wet environments toward robust design guidelines for underwater adhesives which are sticky on demand.
The following general research objectives interconnected in scientific work packages (WPs) were:
(i) extracting principles from biological systems and mimic them to design synthetic polymeric materials (WP1: Polymer Science);
(ii) experimentally testing their adhesion to model and rough or fouled surfaces in wet conditions (WP2: Adhesion);
(iii) clarifying the adhesion mechanisms based on quantitative experiments and theoretical modelling (WP3: (Fluid)biomechanics).
Within each WP, ESRs were assigned a research project with a defined set of objectives, which were carried out in the laboratories of the 10 partners of which are 7 academic and 2 industrial full partners as well as and 1 associated industrial partner.
This carefully planned research and training program in a network of leading academic and industrial partners ensured an excellent training in a pioneering research domain of high scientific and technological relevance, where Europe can take a leading position.
WP1: Polymer Science
The objective of this WP was the progress in knowledge and scientific development in the field of bioinspired adhesive polymers. During the reported period, we have achieved the following specific and training objectives:
i) Training of young students in polymer synthesis, surface micro- and nanostructuration and the synthesis of responsive materials with improved adhesive properties, in particular for applications underwater.
ii) Reinforcement of European network and enhancement of European visibility in bioadhesives.
iii) Joint academia and industrial efforts in bioadhesion which will accelerate translation of biological adhesive principles into high-tech commercial products.
Tasks, work carried out and achievements of listed objectives:
Task 1.1 Adhesive surfaces from responsive polymer brushes
Task 1.2 Reversible wet adhesives based on catechol chemistry
Task 1.3 Responsive gels using complex coacervation
Task 1.4 Industrial material design

WP2: Adhesion
The general objective of WP2 was to characterize the adhesive properties of interfaces formed in the presence of water and to understand the main mechanisms by which intermolecular forces under water result in macroscopically measurable adhesion.
Tasks, work carried out and achievements of listed objectives
Task 2.1 Adhesion on model responsive flat surfaces under water
Task 2.2 Adhesion of complex coacervates under water
Task 2.3 Adhesion on surfaces with controlled and periodic roughness
Task 2.4 Adhesion of animals in wet conditions
Task 2.5 Modelling
Task 2.6 Industrial applications. Assessment of improved adhesion performance on fouled surfaces and on prototype coatings

WP3: (Fluid)biomechanics
According to the research work described in the Grant Agreement, the main specific objectives of WP3 were the following:
i) To characterize the performance of natural adhesives under wet conditions;
ii) To develop computational tools capable of describing the fluid mechanics of adhesion on wet surfaces.
iii) To obtain a fundamental understanding of wet adhesion mechanisms using both state-of-the-art experimental techniques and multi-scale modelling;
Tasks, work carried out and achievements of listed objectives
Task 3.1 Mechanisms in natural adhesive systems under wet conditions
Task 3.2 Computational study of the fluid mechanical aspects of the adhesion on wet surfaces
Task 3.3 Atomistic modelling of polymer conformations

For further information: - NEWSLETTER
The progress beyond the state of the art and main scientific achievements so far were:

WP1 - Polymer Science
Developed synthetic strategies and schemes for materials design:
- model polymeric-brush surfaces with improved adhesion properties and reversibility
- coacervate-based materials with good mechanical and underwater adhesive properties
- novel nitro-catechol derivatives with improved photodegradation properties
- specifically formulated latexes
- new pressure-sensitive-adhesives

WP2: Adhesion
Developed new methodology and testing devices for evaluation of adhesion underwater & electric field

WP3: (Fluid)biomechanics
First insight into adhesion mechanism of limpets under wet conditions based on the experimental and numerical study & structural/dynamic properties of PEs.

Based on the expected progress with the research activities programmed at the individual, participant team and network level we had deepen our understanding of mechanisms of adhesion in wet conditions in model and real systems. This allowed us the development of new concepts for design of synthetic materials for technological and medical adhesives as well as coatings. Through its interdisciplinary and inter-sectorial character, the proposed curriculum provided an excellent preparation for the future career of the ESRs either in academia or industry. BioSmartTrainee broadened the horizon of the young researchers through the large international context of the proposed education and through interaction with industry. These outstanding researchers will be poised to be recruited by European industries (such as in the field of advanced materials, technological and biomedical adhesives, coatings technologies, nanotechnology) and academia, being highly qualified with scientific and transferable skills and thus to work together within a new paradigm of rational model design in a revitalised advanced adhesive materials industry.
The common experience at the training events strengthened the network between the 11 ESRs who usually work at different laboratories. The generation of a long-lasting network between the ESRs was one direct long-term effect of BioSmartTrainee. Such a network benefited and benefits the ESRs in their future working life, as well as their respective employers. The participation in common training events with participants from a number of different countries in one class helped to strengthen the European unity, and prepared the ESRs for a following working life in multinational teams as commonly encountered in a globalized world. The continued discussion between people with different educational and ethnic backgrounds further inspired creativity to obtain new solutions to emerging problems. ALUMNI activities after the ETN will ensure a continuation of a long-lasting and sustainable network.
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