A defining property of soft materials is their ability to undergo large deformation in response to relatively small physical or chemical perturbations. For example, capillary forces of a liquid droplet on a surface can result in elastic deformations of the substrate on the order of the elastocapillary length scale. For traditional hard material, this deformation can be less than an angstrom and is often negligible; however, for soft materials such as PDMS, this elastocapillary effect can result in deformations on the order of microns and even millimeters.
We aim to explore the instabilities and mechanical behaviors that arise at the interfaces of soft materials. Understanding the interfacial behavior of soft materials is crucial for developing new methods for manufacturing soft materials and understanding the shape evolution of soft materials and biomaterials under small mechanical stresses. For example, 3D-printed cell laden collagen microbeams will contract, buckle, and break-up under the stresses generated by the embedded cells. Understanding how the shape of these cellular constructs evolve over time will be critical when developing more advanced 3D-printed tissue or organ models for personalized medicine. By applying the principles of mechanical engineering and leveraging the ability to shape soft materials in their fluid phase using soft matter 3D-printing techniques, we aim to understand of the fundamental physics that govern the behavior of soft materials under small forces. Furthermore, we hope to apply these understandings to guide the development of new bio-inspired soft materials that capture the heterogeneous internal architecture found in native biomaterials.