What research projects have you conducted?
My research revolved around the development and testing of thermoplastic magnetic elastomers for use in fuse deposition modeling. Essentially, I’ve been developing filament that can be used for 3-D printing that is both stretchy and magnetic. My advisor, Dr. Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman has been researching topics within material science for a while now and has been developing materials with these stretchy and magnetic qualities. I got involved with the project and assisted with the development and testing phases.
We are still in the preliminary stages of this project, so we are not yet aiming for a specific application for this filament. One example application is in soft robotics, which necessitates materials that can perform very precise movements. There are also biomedical applications. The cool thing about having a really stretchy material that is also magnetic is that you can cause it to deform and move it without using any mechanical energy. These types of materials are useful in stents and make the implantation and removal of the device much less invasive.
So far, we have been able to develop a magnetic, stretchy material that can be used in a 3-D printer without issue. Plus, we’ve been able to develop long spools of the filament, which is crucial.
What was your day to day experience like as a student researcher?
The day starts with checking all the data acquired through testing of the filament. Then we move into thinking about how we can make it better. We learned a lot from other researchers and read literature to gain insights about possible development procedures. I liked to call this part our “sandbox” phase – lots of tests, analyzing results, and researching how we can improve those results.
As for the actual construction of the filament, it consists of two materials: a stretchy plastic base and small spheres of magnetic iron particulate. To actually produce that composite we dissolved the plastic, put in the magnetic particulate, and let it solidify. From there, put that into a machine called a Filastruder which extrudes the filament through a small hole to form the desired shape.
How did you become involved with the research projects?
I reached out to Dr. Nelson-Cheeseman over J-term last year because I really wanted to get involved in a project. I know that I want to continue my education and get a master’s degree, so I thought it would be good to try my hand at research!
Where there any barriers or challenges you had to overcome to apply for and participate in research? (Ex. Not enough time in schedule, qualified enough to conduct research, etc).
When I initially spoke to Dr. Nelson-Cheeseman about the project and about applying for a grant, the application deadline for the Young Scholars grant was only a week and a half away. Because the deadline was so close, the application process was pretty stressful, and I ended up putting in 30-40 hours of work during that period. In the end, I did finish the application and was able to conduct impactful research.
Also, I’m looking to publish my work and have completed the first draft of a paper I’m looking to submit to an engineering journal called Composites B. Just getting to that point was really difficult. Trying to write something that will be accepted within academia is tough. So, it’s difficult, but Dr. Nelson-Cheeseman really pushes and encourages her researchers to challenge themselves. She’s great at helping us produce something tangible that we can put out in to the academic community.