I am working on soft mechanical systems at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory. My research focuses on creating changes in stiffness and damping properties, macroscopic motion, and force generation using 'soft' materials. The buzz word is artificial muscles, but the scope is much broader. I'm thinking about how we can create compliant devices that out perform the typical 'hard' systems engineers usually design.
Fun facts on soft matter
One 'soft' actuation technology I'm looking into are polymer gels. There is some criticism in the soft robotics community about the usefulness of polymer gels for artificial muscle type technology. A recent review article by Madden  intentionally omitted their consideration. The response time is typically slow (anywhere from seconds to weeks) and they are relatively weak (QUANTIFY). I believe they still have merit because of the breadth of stimuli that can be used to activate them (light, heat, pH, electric and magnetic fields, ionic strength) and the control we have over their swelling properties. The change in physical shape of polymer gels So I picked up de Gennes classic Scaling Concepts in Polymer Physics to see if I could learn a few things. I decided that for my final project, I'd do a critical reading of
References:  Madden et al., IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering 29, 706 (2004)