Harnessing nature’s ingenuity to make tough and stimuli-responsive materials

Megan Valentine, University of California Santa Barbara
Location: Online

Friday, 11 February 2022 02:30PM PST

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Nature is replete with extraordinary materials that can grow, move, respond, and adapt. These have long served as an inspiration for synthetic and biomaterials design.  By developing a foundational understanding of the structure-mechanics relationships of marine adhesives, my laboratory has developed high-performance polymer materials that are extremely strong without compromising extensibility, as well as multiphase porous materials with tunable toughness and strength. More recently, we have drawn inspiration from biological processing to develop methods that allow for precise spatiotemporal property control. By leveraging the light transduction pathways of highly-absorbing, negatively photochromic molecules, we have developed a suite of stimuli-responsive materials and have demonstrated the utility of light as a means of remote control and power.  We have used these approaches to drive the motion in a range of engineered systems, ranging from liquid flows to amorphous polymeric materials to soft actuators. Together, these innovations open the door to a wide range of applications in packaging, connective tissue repair, soft robotics, and optofluidics.


Megan T. Valentine is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Co-Director of the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her interdisciplinary research group investigates many aspects of biological and bioinspired materials, with an emphasis on understanding how forces are generated and transmitted in living materials, how these forces control cellular outcomes, and how the extraordinary features of living systems can be captured in manmade materials. This highly interdisciplinary experimental work lies at the intersection of engineering, physics, biology and chemistry, and advances diverse application areas, ranging from marine-inspired materials to mechanobiology to soft robotics. 

Megan received her B.S from Lehigh University, M.S. from UPenn and Ph.D. from Harvard, all in Physics. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford in the Department of Biological Sciences, where she was the recipient of a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Postdoctoral Fellowship, and a Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface. In 2008, she joined the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she now serves as a co-leader of an IRG on Resilient Multiphase Soft Materials within the UC Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory, an NSF MRSEC. In 2013, she was awarded an NSF CAREER Award for her work on neuron mechanics, and in 2015 was awarded a Fulbright to study adhesion mechanics in Paris, France.  She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.