The Army's corporate research laboratory recently hosted a professor from Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering to collaborate on chemically-powered artificial muscles for the future Soldier.
Professor Daniel Hallinan spent 10 weeks at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory, which was made possible through a Historically Black College and University/Minority-Serving Institution Partnered Research Initiative program that funds professors in the sciences and engineering to bring their expertise to government/Department of Defense labs.
While at the lab, Hallinan interacted closely with the CCDC ARL Fermented Vegetation Efficiently Running Artificial Muscle team to establish testing protocols to more effectively screen novel materials being synthesized.
"During my HBCU/MI Summer Faculty Fellowship at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, I studied how plastic fibers respond when they are twisted," Hallinan said. "It is actually quite fascinating that when a fiber is highly twisted, it will coil into a spring. We are interested in these springs for use as artificial muscles."
Dr. Daniel Hallinan
According to Hallinan, using several different stimuli, the spring can be caused to contract and expand, similar to a natural muscle.
"I was particularly interested in when and how the coiling occurred based on the strength and stiffness of the plastic," Hallinan said. "I used my expertise in polymer science as well as chemical engineering to contribute in other ways as well."
For example, Hallinan identified optimal material property values needed to achieve the desired artificial muscle performance targets, and helped develop and implement techniques to measure those material properties.
"The most rewarding part of my research was discussing with the other team members what would be the most interesting and promising new materials to make," Hallinan said.
According to the researchers, artificial muscles have several potential benefits to the Army, but more specifically to the Soldier.
"They are needed to enable quiet, efficient artificial mules to support Soldiers in terrain where wheeled vehicles cannot go," Hallinan said. "The added benefit will be to lighten the heavy load that Soldiers are currently required to carry. They could also potentially be used to augment human performance, allowing Soldiers to run faster, jump farther and wear heavier body armor to decrease fatalities. Perhaps most interesting is their possible use in active prosthetic devices."
For Hallinan, this experience working at ARL was extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally.
"There were two major highlights for me while working with ARL," Hallinan said. "The first was learning all about twisted and coiled fibers. It was my first exposure to this topic, and I found it fascinating. The second highlight was interacting with the team of scientists working on the project. Because of our different technical backgrounds, we learned a great deal from each other."
Hallinan noted that he would recommend researchers and other professors seek partnership opportunities with ARL and similar labs.
"From personal experience, this fellowship opened up an entirely new research direction in my group," Hallinan said. "It uses my fundamental expertise, but in an application that I previously knew nothing about. In addition to the primary research project that I worked on, I visited other labs, interacted with other researchers working in areas of interest to me, and I attended and gave seminars. I found that my time at ARL educated me on the specific current needs of the Army, clarified the funding opportunities that are available, and opened doors for collaboration and research support that I may not have found otherwise."
Not only did Hallinan gain a new research direction and experiences, but he developed a deeper appreciation for what it means to be an Army researcher.
"I respect the men and women who risk their lives protecting our freedom," Hallinan said. "I see this research as a part of an effort to make their jobs safer, to lighten their load, and potentially protect their lives without risking our freedom."
Hallinan is taking both the expertise he developed during the fellowship and some of the protocols back to FAMU-FSU COE to continue research.
"By studying the theory and conducting measurements in the lab, Daniel was able to provide target property values for FeVERAM's material development efforts," said Dr. Dat Tran, co-principal investigator for FeVERAM. "His expertise in polymers and electrolytes brought insight to the actuation process for Chemically-Powered Artificial Muscles, and we are already looking forward to hosting his students in our laboratory in the coming summers."
According to Dr. Mark Wood, associate division chief of ARL's Energy and Power Division, programs such as the HBCU/MI initiative increase collaborations and provide opportunities for professors and government labs to synergistically assist each other and bring more minds to working on science that is directly relevant to the Army.