In order to provide a true distributed sensor and control system for civil structures, we have developed a Structural Nervous System that mimics key attributes of a human nervous system. This nervous system is made up of building blocks that are designed based on mechanoreceptors as a fundamentally new approach for the development of a structural health monitoring and diagnostic system that utilizes the recently discovered plant-protein forisomes, a novel non-living biological material capable of sensing and actuation. In particular, our research has been focused on producing a sensory nervous system for civil structures by using forisomes as the mechanoreceptors, nerve fibers, neuronal pools, and spinocervical tract to the nodal and central processing units. This paper will present up to date results of our research, including the design and analysis of the structural nervous system.
With the discovery in plants of the proteinaceous forisome crystalloid (Knoblauch et al. 2003), a novel nastic non-living, ATP-independent biological material became available to the designer of smart materials for advanced actuating and sensing. The in vitro studies of Knoblauch et al. show that forisomes (1-3 micron wide and 10-30 micron long) can be repeatedly stimulated to contract and expand anisotropically by shifting either the ambient pH or the ambient calcium ion concentration. In a device, the energy required for the transformations would be provided electrochemically by mini-electrodes inducing pH variation. Because of their unique abilities to develop and reverse strains greater than 20% in time periods less than 1s , forisomes have the potential to outperform current smart materials (such as ATP-dependent actuators or synthetic hydrogels/polymers) as advanced, biomimetic, multi-functional, smart sensors or valves or actuators. To date, studies have been limited to questions of protein engineering explored by Knaublach et al. Probing forisome material properties is therefore an immediate need to lay the foundation for synthesizing forisome-based smart materials for health monitoring of structural integrity in civil infrastructure and aerospace hardware. Here, we use microfluidics to study the surface interaction between forisome and substrate and the conformational dynamics of forisomes within a confined geometry to lay the foundation for forisome-based smart materials synthesis with controlled and repeatable environment.