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ERC Senior Research Associate

B.Sc. University of Richmond
Ph.D. Northwestern University

Active and Intelligent Materials

Research in my group is focused on materials solutions to the two flip sides of the energy problem. Understanding the mechanisms and improving efficiency, on the energy production side, is a well-recognized necessity and one we are pursuing. Longer-term solutions, however, should focus on more sustainable uses of energy, where smart materials will play a large role. Materials have the potential to perform many complicated tasks that today are done by machines and, much as in electronics, they will do so while consuming fewer resources or facilitating lower energy consumption. Such materials will be assembled, disassembled and reused on command, have multiple functionality, exhibit high sensitivity, have emergent properties not present in individual components, and can be programmed to respond to multiple environmental stimuli. Much of my research is collaborative and interdisciplinary and current projects in my group are on the following topics:

Phase separation in confined geometries

Using nanofibers for confinement we make it easier to study phase separation and simultaneously make new materials. Fundamental investigations include the lengthscales at which we see deviations from bulk behavior, the kinetics of the process, and novel material properties that could be achieved by this method. Potential applications range from improving photovoltaics to novel nanomanufacturing techniques. Particular emphasis is placed on developing scalable phase separation processes for novel fabrication of anisotropic building blocks.

Micro and nano-legos

Anisotropic particles are assembled in low-symmetry structures with various functionalities. Bistable structures offer stable functionality with the possibility of reconfiguration and even recycling of the components. We have shown how magnetic fields can be used to remotely disassemble structures that are stable in the absence of fields – including chains and multifunctional foam materials.

Efficient photovoltaics

Multi-exciton photovoltaics utilizing quantum dot sensitization will be used to capture a larger part of the visible spectrum to yield more efficient photovoltaics. A patent pending method we developed will be used to tune the different bandgaps of the sensitizing materials and ensure efficient capture of different wavelength photons. Semiconductor nanofibers are fabricated by another patent-pending method with unprecedented efficiency.  Electron-hole generation and transport will be studied in this strategy to increase the efficiency of thin film and potentially flexible solar cells.

Active materials

A major focus of our research would be adaptive responsive structures, including materials which respond to changes of temperature, pressure, pH, ionic strength, light, and electromagnetic fields. Applications of such materials range from artificial muscles providing higher energy density actuators for robots, to photonic switches for new optoelectronic computing. We are deconstructing principles of actuation found in nature, and creating bio-inspired artificial, life-like actuators.

Nanofibers made by a patent-pending shear nanospinning method, currently being commercialized. Zoom-in: Mixed monolayer of surface-absorbed nanoparticles from another patent-pending innovation - cooperative electrostatic absorption.
 

 

  • Haas PA, Goldstein RE, Smoukov SK, Cholakova D, Denkov N, A Theory of Shape-Shifting Droplets, PRL 118 088001 (2017), https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.118.088001
  • Cholakova D, Denkov N, Tcholakova S, Lesov I, Smoukov SK, Control of drop shape transformations in cooled emulsions, ADV. COLLOID INTERFACE SCI. 235, 90-107 (2016), DOI:10.1016/j.cis.2016.06.002
  • Denkov N, Tcholakova S, Lesov I, Cholakova D, Smoukov SK, Self-Shaping of Droplets via Formation of Intermediate Rotator Phases upon Cooling, NATURE 528, 392–395 (2015), DOI: 10.1038/nature16189​
  • Smoukov SK, Tian T., Vitchuli N., Gangwal S., Geisen P., Wright M., Shim E, Marquez M., Fowler J., Velev OD, Scalable Liquid Shear-Driven Synthesis of Polymer Nanomaterials,    ADV. MATER., 27 (16), 2642–2647 (2015) DOI: 10.1002/adma.201404616
  • Khaldi A, Plesse C, Vidal F, Smoukov SK, Smarter Actuator Design with Complementary and Synergetic Functions, ADV. MATER. 27 (30), 4418–4422 (2015) DOI: 10.1002/adma.201500209

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