Our research focus is broadly divided into three main areas:
The first area is focused toward developing a fundamental understanding of the structure and dynamics of molecules at surfaces and interfaces. Although we have several sophisticated tools available (for examples, NMR, IR, and X-Ray) to study properties of polymers in the bulk, the techniques to study polymeric surfaces and interfaces are limited. Surface properties of polymers play an important role in our understanding of friction, adhesion, wetting, and interfacial tension. We have developed infrared-visible sum-frequency-generation spectroscopy (SFG) techniques to study polymeric surfaces and interfaces. The goal of this research is to couple SFG and mechanics to directly relate macroscopic properties such as adhesion and friction with structure and dynamics of interfacial molecules.
Second, my group builds on the fundamental concepts of surfaces and interfaces to design new materials inspired by nature. Our research is also part of the integrated bioscience program at the University of Akron. In close collaboration with faculty members in the IB program, we work with live animals such as geckos and spiders to understand how to utilize and mimic natural materials.The gecko foot sticks to a range of substrates and have the self cleaning properties. In the last six years, we made rapid progress in designing synthetic carbon nanotube-based adhesive tapes inspired by geckos. Due to the hairy structure of carbon nanotubes, these tapes exhibit lotus-like effects and water slides off these surfaces. We have also studied the fundamental aspects related to spider web stickiness, bead on a string (BOAS) morphology on the capture silk with respect to the spider silk adhesion and used such concepts to mimic the silk and fabricate microthreads. Thus this area of research helps us in designing and developing more efficient and environment-friendly materials based on natural materials.
Thirdly, the group works on the development of carbon nanotubes on variety of substrates and study the properties related to mechanisms of wetting and adhesion. The modification of the surface structuer and chemistry helps us to understand certain systems such as steamphobic surfaces which can be of great importance to the industrial society.
The growing impact of polymers throughout the next decade will focus on areas such as energy, environment-friendly materials, and nanotechnology. Our research thrust will continue to provide fundamental knowledge and technological innovations to assist in developing the expertise needed to use polymers in these areas.