New directions in mechanics
Original entry by Bryan Weinstein, Fall 2012
Authors: M. Kassner, S. Nemat-Nasser, Z. Suo, et al.
Keywords: Thin film, Self-Assembly, Modeling, Fracture, Workshop, Review
In 2005, the US Department of Energy (DOE) sponsored a workshop to identify areas of research that depended on advances in theoretical and applied mechanics. Three broad areas of research were discussed.
Self Assembly and Fluidics
Ultimately, scientists hope to create self-assembled structures that resemble life itself. The structures will be multi-functional and will have self-preserving attributes such as "healing, self-sensing, and replication." Fluidics will be a large part of these structures. In 2005 (and today), the most advanced self-assembly techniques were capable of producing strain-induced quantum dots. Clearly, scientists are far away from creating structures that will mimic life itself. The authors of this paper argue that our understanding of self-assembly is not advanced enough to predict the future of the field.
One challenge that scientists face when studying self-assembly are huge variations in length and time scales. One must extend the effect of microscopic behaviors to the macroscopic regime; this is a difficult task. Several theories have been developed to handle this problem, such as "molecular dynamics (MD), Monte Carlo (MD), and Density Functional Theory (DFT)."
New statistical-mechanics techniques are being developed to tackle this problem as well. Most methods thus far have focused on the "forward" problem of statistical mechanics: finding the macroscopic properties of a large many-body system given the interactions between each particle. The new methods focus on the "inverse problem:" finding the interactions between each particle that lead to a specified structure. One researcher active in this area is Dr. Sorquato (I really like his work).
 Kassner, M. E. et al. New directions in mechanics. Mechanics of Materials 37, 231–259 (2005).