A collaboration between the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, this series welcomes thought leaders and innovators in Dr. Dieter's fields of mechanics and materials. 

Spring 2024 Lecture 

Mechanics of Soft Composites: The Interplay between Geometrical Structuring and Large Deformation to Achieve Novel Behavior

April 26, 2024
11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Zupnik Forum, 1101 A. James Clark Hall
Dr. Mary Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Provost Emerita
The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
Columbia University


Soft composites offer limitless avenues for the design and fabrication of materials and devices with remarkable properties and functional behaviors. Such materials are created through purposeful selection and embedding of a variety of material particles and structures within a soft matrix. By engineering the mechanical interaction between the geometrical organization of the constituent materials and the large deformation behavior of the soft matrix, one obtains composites with readily tunable properties and unique structural responses to external conditions.

In this talk, we explore the mechanics and design of soft composites through analytical and numerical modeling, as well as experiments on physical prototypes fabricated using multi-material 3D printing.  These include patterned structures that are designed to exhibit deformation-induced structural transformations accompanied by a multitude of behaviors: superelastic and multilinear elastic response, enhanced mechanisms for energy storage, and the ability to manipulate wave propagation and alter phononic band gaps. Inspired by natural material systems, we also explore soft composite materials with alternating soft/stiff layered structures. We show that the discrete anisotropic nature of these engineered materials can be leveraged in the design of protective yet flexible armor and, separately, novel soft actuators that transform local compressive loading to large-scale rotational motion. Finally, also inspired by nature, we demonstrate the design and fabrication of a material with morphable surface topologies using the purposeful embedding of stiff particles in soft matrices.


Mary C. Boyce is Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Provost Emerita of Columbia University, and Dean Emerita of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University.  Prior to joining Columbia in July 2013, Provost Boyce served on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over 25 years, leading the Mechanical Engineering Department as Department Head from 2008 to 2013. Professor Boyce’s education and research efforts focus on the mechanics of materials, including theoretical, computational, and experimental approaches. Her research explores the nonlinear and multi-scale mechanics of polymeric materials and soft composites. Her leadership in the field of mechanics of materials has expanded the ability to model and predict the highly nonlinear time- and temperature-dependence of polymeric materials based on their underlying physics. Her research has expanded understanding of the interplay between micro-geometry and the inherent physical behavior of a material. Recognition for her scholarly contributions to the field include election as Fellow of the American Academy of Mechanics, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  Professor Boyce was awarded the 2015 Engineering Science Medal by the Society of Engineering Science and the 2020 Timoshenko Medal for Advances in Applied Mechanics by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She is the recipient of the 2024 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Mechanical Engineering from the Franklin Institute. In her past role as Dean, and together with faculty of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Professor Boyce introduced and developed the Columbia Engineering for Humanity strategic vision, spearheading the expansion of interdisciplinary research and education programs across the School and attracting faculty talent in cross-cutting fields as wide ranging as Data Science, Nano Science, Advanced Materials and Devices, Sustainability and Climate, and Engineering in Health and Medicine.



About Dr. George E. Dieter, Jr.

Dean, A. James Clark School of Engineering, 1977-1994
Faculty, Mechanical Engineering, 1977-2020

George passed on December 12, 2020, at age 92, during a brief stay in a hospital in Silver Spring, MD with prostate cancer. Pre-deceased by his wife, Nancy R. Dieter, of 67 years, and daughter Barbara J. Dieter, he is survived by his daughter, Carol Joan Dieter, along with brothers, nephews, and nieces.

Dr. Dieter was Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, the Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering, and the Dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering from 1977-1994 at the University of Maryland.

Prior to this, he worked at DuPont. Afterward, served as the Department Head and Dean of Metallurgical Engineering at Drexel University. Then he was Professor of Engineering and the Director of the PRI at Carnegie Mellon University.

Additionally, Professor Dieter received the education award from ASM, TMS, and SME as well as the Lamme Medal, the highest award of ASEE. He has been chair of the Engineering Deans Council and President of ASEE. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and was the author of two books.

Dr. Dieter never stopped learning, leading, or giving. He established the University of Maryland Barbara J. Dieter Scholarship fund to support women in engineering, and the University of Maryland George E. Dieter, Jr. Materials Instructional Lab was named to remember all that he has done.