Richard S Hutchison

Sports Body Armor

Sponsor/Employer: SoftArmour LLC

Idea: Use electroactive Polymers (EAPs) or electro- or magnetorheological (ER) fluids to create an active sports body armor.

Purpose: Mitigate or prevent bodily injury.

Method: Actively sense impact and rapidly respond with an appropriate force.

Outcome: Patent US9271858 B2 issued March 1, 2016.


   David and Allan contracted RPI's Design Lab to take their idea for an active sports body armor and have us do comprehensive background research on materials and market, project planning, system design, prototyping, and then testing of sourced materials.

   Since there was no database on the properties of different EAP- and ER fluid-based materials, the materials half of the 12-student team developed a database of materials, reported properties (response time, response strength, etc), and references. We also created a taxonomic tree of electroactive technologies we might use for an active sports body armor.


   Although I coordinated and lead the team, part of my technical assignment with the project was to determine the best testing methods to use in order to determine the time and force response under applied voltage. I settled on ASTM standard D6272 – 10 and using a 4-point bend test. However, before we finalized this decision, I took 2 weeks to travel to California to meet with companies working with EAPs and ER fluids and learn from them how they test these materials in industry. Between meeting with Strategic Polymers and Xina Quan, VP of R&D at Artificial Muscle, Inc, I concluded that the testing protocol that I had developed based on ASTM D6272 and including a grounded high-voltage power supply, along with the sample geometry and construction, matched how these materials are tested in an industrial setting.

   The sponsors were so impressed by my leadership, communication, and technical contribution that they invited me to continue the project over the following summer after graduation.

   To determine whether or not we were pursuing the right direction with the technology we needed our own data on response time and force with applied voltage. So, during the summer I provided them with a project plan, contacted international suppliers of ER fluids (they were very rare), ordered fluids from 2 different companies, built the testing setup, and made and tested samples.

   In order to build the testing setup, I sourced a high voltage power supply online, created a circuit including a variable resistor so that we could adjust the voltage output, and added alligator clips so that it could be connected to samples. To avoid accidental damage to the Instron testing machine from the high voltage, I machined a special plastic cap for the strain gauge and used insulating tape over the rollers on the 4-point bend text fixture to avoid (see pictures below). I also build a grounding cage to surround the setup during testing.


   Since we decided to start with ER-fluids, instead of solid EAPs, we needed a method for holding fluid between layers of alternating positive and negative voltage (or ground). Since we wanted to use Pyralux, which is a Copper-Kapton(polyimide film) laminate, we decided the quickest route to reproducibly prototype layers for the samples was to have them laser etched. The tech that would run the laser etching needed to-scale CAD designs to import into their automated etching software. So I quickly drafted the designs in NX, based on my notes, and sent them off to the tech.


   We tried several etching techniques to see if we could use Pyralux filled with ER fluid, however the grooves were not deep enough to reliably hold the ER fluid during testing and, as can be seen in the next picture, the etching ended up being rather messy and not very reliable.


   Instead, we settled on using bulk copper tape (no adhesive) with strips of fluid filled Kimwipes between each copper layer. To ensure the copper did not short around the sides of the samples, I coated the sides and end of each copper strip with a thin layer of insulating lacquer. I also had to develop moulds to assemble the samples in, in order to achieve consistent construction of the samples during my work as well as moving forward when other students would take over the project in the Fall.


   While not very glamorous, this was the quickest and most effective way to develop samples filled with ER fluid, and was in alignment with what I had learned from SPI and Artificial Muscles, Inc.

   Unfortunately, due to an NDA still being in place, I cannot discuss the specifics of the results, however, by the end of the summer the sponsors were pleased to see testing results which warranted moving forward with the technology. They kept me in an advisory role and had students join me in my graduate research lab to learn how to make samples and use the testing setup. The results of my team's work during the Spring and my personal work during the Summer lead to us pursuing a patent on this technology.

   Several of my materials team members and I researched and developed potential geometries and embodiments for the technology, including cutting-edge applications for electrospinning or 3D printing using concentric nozzles to yield multiple concentric tubes that could be filled with alternating layers of ER fluid and conductive fibers. We developed both the microstructural aspects: how different fibers or layers would be made, as well as the macrostructural implementation: the pants/leggings and neck brace. Some pictures from our patent are included below but here is a link to the PDF version of the patent, which can also be found on USPTO Patent Search.

Patent US9271858 B2 issued March 1, 2016.



3D Photonic Crystals

Sponsor/Employer: Graduate Advisor Dr.Linda Schadler

Idea: Apply our preexisting polymer nanocomposites toward creating 3D photonic crystals via electrospinning-based and micelle-based approaches.

Purpose: We have already demonstrated the capability to tune the refractive index of our bimodally grafted zirconia silicone nanocomposites. Electrospinning and micelle based approaches would open up new possibilities for scalable manufacturing of tunable refractive index 3D photonic crystals through changing the zirconia content.

Methods: High voltage electrospinning, micelle self-assembly

         Micelle Approach: Passed off to James Pressly who completed his M.S. Thesis based on it.
         Electrospinning : Achieved 1um target fiber size, passed of project to Schadler group.


    A photonic crystal is an optical nanostructure with periodic sections of a different refractive index from the bulk. An example of a naturally occurring photonic crystal is an opal.


    Tailored photonic crystals present the possibility to have very controlled, precise optical wave guides. An optical waveguide is what it sounds like, it allows you to guide the direction of light.

    Since our research group has already proven that we can tune the refractive index of our nanocomposite by varying the zirconia loading, grafted polymer brushes, and choice of matrix material, there is great potential to apply our technology to creating photonic crystals

Micelle Approach

    A polymer micelle can be created using amphiphilic block copolymers (a polymer chain with a hydrophobic group on one end and hydrophobic group on the other end) which self-assemble under the right chemical conditions. These polymer micelles can be used to encapsulate a payload, or core. Our goal would be to create micelles, fill them high refractive index zirconia nanoparticles, and then assemble them into desired periodic structures.

micelle coreshell

    After working through a literature review, it was clear that a polystyrene-poly acrylic acid block copolymer (PS-b-PAA) was the ideal choice to make our micelles. We played around with the parameters but ultimately settled on using the PS-b-PAA dissolved in a relatively polar solvent (DMF), thoroughly mixed this solution with a sonicator, added water dropwise until the pH=6, and then observed for the phase separation. Phase separation occurs due to water-dispersible spherical assemblies forming with external PAA blocks "maintaining colloidal stability" in the water. At this point, an indicator that micelles were successfully formed is if the solution looks visibly opalescent.

    Once we proved that what we had was really micelles via SEM imaging, the project was passed off to James Pressly to finish his masters thesis.


James was able to take the initial development work and encapsulate zirconia nanoparticles in the micelles. Here is a beautiful picture of our work from his thesis.


Electrospinning Approach

    In the process of electrospinning, a high voltage is applied between a polymer solvent solution and a metallic target as it is discharged from a syringe with a metal tip. Initially, a droplet will form on the tip of the syringe, which deforms under the applied electric field until a conical shape, called a Taylor Cone, forms. There are several methods for aligning and collecting the fibers.

electrospinsetup electrospindiagram

    There are a number of tunable parameters that affect the resulting fiber size. These parameters are: the initial jet radius, volumetric charge density, distance from nozzle to collector, initial elongational viscosity, relaxation time, initial polymer concentration, perturbation frequency, solvent vapor pressure, solution density, electrical potential, vapor diffusivity, relative humidity, and surface tension.     What we wanted to do was to electrospin densely packed, highly aligned sheets of fibers so that we could stack them with a 90 degree rotation between stacks, creating a so-called log cabin structure.


    Taking these parameters into consideration, I devised a set of tests to determine whether we could achieve the 1um target fiber size. (click on either image to see a close-up)

pmmaaligned1 pmmaaligned2

    Once I found a polymer-solvent-voltage-distance combination which achieved 1um fibers, I passed the project to a member of another research group on campus to see if their proprietary electrospinning technique could get us the fiber density and alignment we needed to create the log cabin structure.

    At this point I transferred the technology to others in my research group and the collaborating group as I transitioned into my graduate research program.


Sponsor/Employer: Graduate Advisor Dr.Linda Schadler and NYSERDA

Idea: Apply our preexisting polymer nanocomposites toward increasing the efficiency of high brightness white LEDs.

Purpose: We have already demonstrated the capability to tune the refractive index of our bimodally grafted zirconia silicone nanocomposites. A goal in the Department of Energy (DOE) Solid State Lighting (SSL) Plan is to increase the efficiency of high brightness white LEDs through increasing the light extraction efficiency (LEE) to channel more light out of the LED and increasing the thermal conductivity to channel more heat away. We hoped to either demonstrate or rule out our nanocomposite as a solution for these two issues.

Methods: 1D thermal transmittance testing, thermogravimetric analysis, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, ellipsometry, UV/Vis spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, dynamic light scattering,

         Micelle Approach: Passed off to James Pressly who completed his M.S. Thesis based on it.
         Electrospinning : Achieved 1um target fiber size, passed of project to Schadler group.


    A photonic crystal is an optical nanostructure with periodic sections of a different refractive index from the bulk. An example of a naturally occurring photonic crystal is an opal.

Sponsor/Employer: Me

Idea: Apply my programming practice towards my own personal website.

Purpose: For fun and to share various projects and programming bits I think are interesting, inspiring, or may be useful to other people.

Method: HTML and CSS with JS coming soon!

Outcome: This Site! All HTML and CSS were coded by me.


    A part of this site I am particularly proud of is the project nav at the top of this page. This took a creative combination of <list>, <span>, and CSS :hover. Although I know that someone else will eventually see and copy this, and it's highly likely that another web developer out there has done something similar, this was my own creation.

   This page is also a practice in putting out a minimal viable product. I have been iterating on it for some months now and plan to continue to do so in the future. SO, Please do come back and enjoy new additions and revisions!