A new generation of engineering applications, propelled by industry and government led initiatives, has created an array of challenges towards enhancing the performance capabilities of soft materials. This effort has focused on a variety of goals, including the development of novel soft materials that 1) can match the natural properties of biological tissues, 2) are responsive to external multi-physical stimuli and 3) can function in structural and load bearing applications. Applications in tissue engineering, bioengineering, soft robotics, flexible electronics, energetic materials and structural design, all pose requirements towards optimizing combinations of material properties, such as strength, toughness, fatigue resistance, lubricity, and wear resistance. For example recent advances have led to the development of double network hydrogels, soft composites, as well as hydrogels and elastomers with dynamic bonds which all are designed towards improved material properties. Bioinspiration and multiscale understanding of the underlying mechanisms that govern the material behavior prove to be extremely important for informing the design and generation of soft materials, devices, and implants. At the same time, advancements in fabrication techniques such as 3D printing are expanding the application space of soft materials. The acceleration of soft material design needs to be supported by the concurrent evolution of fabrication and characterization techniques so that existing shortcomings of soft materials are overcome.
The goal of this symposium is to bring together experts in the characterization, design, fabrication, and application of high performance soft material to discuss recent developments in the field and priorities for interdisciplinary approaches to moving the field forward.