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Research Program

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The key goal of livMatS is to make the transition from equilibrium or “deeply frozen” metastable, and thus static, materials to dynamic, life-like, non-equilibrium materials systems. We have identified key principles to make this decisive advance towards materials systems.

Energy is a key aspect of this design, as it powers active responses to changes in the environment and enables the performance of (mechanical) work. In the livMatS context, energy has to be harvested from the immediate environment. To convert and store the required energy, energy harvesting functionalities must be an integral part of the materials systems to provide true autonomy. Internal control over energy distribution, and active adaption to external signals will require the installation of chemical, structural, and microsystem-based regulatory networks, which will allow for self-regulating properties and generate adaptability.

Ultimately, such materials systems may exhibit self-improvement, and capabilities for simple forms of “learning” and training. However, materials systems envisioned will allow a (manual) override via human intervention when properties other than those generated automatically are desired. Such an approach will far surpass current technological pathways to so-called “smart” materials and embedded systems. Our approach will also go well beyond biology. By using the strengths of synthetic and robust materials, applications can be envisioned in environments where biological systems would clearly fail (extreme heat, dryness, pH, etc.). Consequently, such systems will not contain integrated living biological cells, as such cell-based systems would always be limited by conditions mandatory for biological life (e.g. presence of water, moderate temperatures). These restrictions do not apply to livMatS materials systems.

Having systems which can adapt their properties in various ways also paves the way for interesting approaches to self-repair. The compartmentalization, miniaturization and integration into complex assemblies allow for the introduction of redundancies into the systems, which in turn will enable the systems to survive (limited) damage without encountering a complete system failure. This combination of fault tolerance and self-protection/-repair will increase the longevity, robustness and resilience of the system and ultimately lead to systems with self-improving properties. The progress of livMatS science and technology will thus offer novel systems that integrate well with the human environment, feed on clean ambient energy , and serve human needs. Consequently, an integral part of livMatS research will be to reflect on the challenges and implications of these developments for the environment and society in general.

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