Optically controlled microgel dynamic systems (SFB 985)
Microgels are cross-linked polymeric networks with dimensions ranging from several hundreds of nano- to a few tens of micro-meters. Microgels are highly sensitive to the environmental changes and can change swelling behaviour (shape and volume) in response to external stimuli such as temperature, pressure and pH. This ability has attracted a lot of attention due to potential applications as micro-sensors, micro-actuators, micro-valves and drug delivery devices. In particular temperature-responsive microgels can exhibit extremely large deformation due to the volume transition in response to changes in temperature. Combining photo-thermal materials (plasmonic nano-particles) with microgels enables non-equilibrium actuation and opens a unique opportunity to design micro-dynamical systems which can be controlled all-optically. In this research focus area, we develop physical models and appropriate numerical methods to describe optically controlled microgel dynamic systems. This involves self-consistent coupling of strongly non-linear diffusion, elasticity, heat transfer and electrodynamic models. Appropriate theoretical and numerical meshfree methodologies are developed and applied to design microgel based all-optically controlled micro-actuators, micro-swimmers and micro-machines.