ARI-led team receives NSF DMREF grant to accelerate adhesive design


A team of researchers led by Dr. Daniel Krogstad, a Senior Research Scientist at the Illinois Applied Research Institute (ARI), was recently awarded a grant through the National Science Foundation DMREF (Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future) program.

Dr. Krogstad, along with co-PIs Prof. Santanu Chaudhuri, a professor in the civil, materials, and environmental engineering department at the University of Illinois at Chicago (who also holds a joint appointment at the Argonne National Laboratory as Director of Computational Materials and Manufacturing Program), and Prof. Vikas Tomar, a professor in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University, will be working together to investigate the development of high-toughness, hierarchically-structured adhesives.

Using an integrated approach that leverages experiments, simulations, and machine learning, the research team will develop a stronger fundamental understanding of how changing compositions of adhesives will affect properties of adhesives. 

 “Our team has a unique combination of expertise that will allow us to dig deeper and gain a better understanding of these hierarchical systems than has been shown previously. Our ability to perform the structural and mechanical characterization across length scales, including from in situ experiments, will allow us to experimentally validate the multiscale models, which will improve the accuracy of the models,” Krogstad said. 

The team will look specifically at the effect of adding block copolymers, a group of self-assembling molecules, to the epoxy adhesives. This type of self-organization of molecules can form internal structure in the adhesives and potentially slow crack propagation and increase the toughness of the epoxy.

This project will also leverage machine learning (ML) to further expand the scope of the investigation. ML models can be trained on both the simulation and experimental data to make predictions about new formulations that can further improve the properties of the adhesives. This approach can lead to accelerated design timelines and increased understanding, as the ML system can interpret larger amounts of data and uncover different correlations and insight. 

“The structure-property-performance relations are poorly understood in adhesives, which hinders the development of robust engineering solutions. The infinite number of variations in the formulations can change the structure, performance, durability, and modes of failure. Therefore, this problem needs precise nanoscale resolved models and advanced characterization methods such as those available in facilities like Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS)” said Chaudhuri. Chaudhuri will be leading the thrust on ML models guided by atomistic- to mesoscale-simulations of adhesion and failure under different external conditions. 

These improved adhesives will be able to stand up to higher mechanical forces and function in expanded temperature ranges. This means there is a large range of possible future applications, especially in military, aerospace, and industrial contexts, as adhesives are important in reducing weight and therefore increasing energy efficiency in airplanes and other vehicles. The project includes a collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate, which will promote the translation of these materials and tools into application. 

 “This is an exciting opportunity for us to grow our collaborations with these nearby universities and AFRL and develop tools to help accelerate the development of improved adhesives. We envision that these tools will not only allow us to study these block copolymer-containing adhesives, but will also allow us to accelerate the development of sustainable epoxy adhesives systems using renewable feedstocks,” Krogstad said.