Texas A&M receives EAGER grant from National Science Foundation

EAGER grant

A research team from Texas A&M University that includes two professors from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has received an Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research and test a transformative building system that engages interdisciplinary teams from the College of Architecture and the Dwight Look College of Engineering.

The project, “Interaction of Smart Materials for Transparent, Self-regulating Building Skins,” is led by Dr. Zofia Rybkowski, assistant professor in the construction science.

Collaborators on the project include: Dr. Negar Kalantar, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture, Dr. Tahir Cagin, professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Ergun Akleman, professor in the Department of Visualization and Dr. Terry Creasy, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The project aims to harness the inherent properties of smart materials such as shape memory alloys, bi-metallic strips, piezoelectric materials and stimuli-responsive polymers and explore their interaction in transparent building skin—thus replacing resource-, energy-, and labor-intensive forms of traditional building infrastructure such as mechanical electrical and plumbing systems.

“Imagine cutting the traditional umbilical cords of a building and harvesting air, water and energy through a building’s skin instead,” Rybkowski said. “Naturally this is a pretty futuristic proposition, but that is what makes an exploratory project like this so exciting. The newest generation of smart materials that can interact with the environment is starting to make this kind of vision actually feasible. We were inspired by stomata of plant leaves that open and close in response to humidity in the air. We can mimic this in building skins using new types of materials that can respond to environmental cues without sensors.”

If successful, the skins would help make buildings self-regulating, reducing the need for complicated software and making facility management more efficient.

EAGER is the NSF’s mechanism to fund “high risk/high reward” projects that are not likely to make it through the regular peer review process.

During the exploratory 24-month EAGER project, interdisciplinary teams comprised of students from architecture and materials science and engineering will investigate the interaction of smart materials within innovative building skins and fabricate and test these interactions during two semester-long workshops.

“We formed organically around an idea that excited us all,” Rybkowski said. “We have a faculty team of five and a host of graduate students from architecture, materials science and engineering, construction science and visualization. This type of representation is quite unusual.

“The group gets larger and larger with each meeting as students and faculty hear about the project. Some are invited and others just show up to the weekly discussions with a flash drive they wish to share. There is a spirit of free sharing of knowledge and ideas. It’s wonderful.”