Charlie White’s 2012 Summer Research in Singapore

“This summer I performed research on the material properties of VHB elastomers for use in dielectric elastomer devices. These devices are electromechanical transducers which have potential uses as artificial muscles, active Braille displays, and small-scale generators of electricity. When a dielectric elastomer (an insulating, squishy material i.e. rubber) is placed between two conducting surfaces of opposite charge, the surfaces are attracted to each other and squish the material making it less thick, but larger in area. By controlling the amount of charge on the conducting surfaces, the amount of movement in the elastomer can be controlled as well. This precise control allows these devices to be used in applications like artificial muscles and active Braille displays for the blind. The process can also be done in reverse (i.e. elastomer movement causes a change in electrical charge rather than the opposite) and be used to generate electricity when placed in floors and walked upon.

I had the opportunity to make my own experimental designs and apparatus, with guidance from my supervisors and fellow students. I used a scanning tunnelling microscope and nano-positioning stage, among other devices, to make my measurements. Spending the summer in the lab fostered in me a better understanding of the experimental method, greater physical intuition, and knowledge of common laboratory practices.

In addition to my co-workers from NUS and fellow EngScis, I met students from UC Berkely, University of North Carolina, York University, Indian Institute of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology, and U of T students from other faculties. I explored Singapore and travelled the region with many of them, visiting Melaka and Tioman in Malaysia, Bangkok, and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. I immensely enjoyed the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of all these previously unknown cultures. It was a summer well spent.”