Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Characterization of Soft Robotic Materials in Radiation Environments for Nuclear Industry Applications Public Deposited

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  • Recent advances in robotics have led to interest in exploring soft robotic technologies as an engineering control for reducing the risk of radiation exposure for workers in the nuclear industry. These emerging “soft” technologies offer many advantages over traditional rigid robotic systems and can perform a wide range of tasks needed for nuclear-related work in place of human labor. This research characterizes the effectiveness of soft materials following radiation exposure to inform the applicability of soft robotics for the nuclear industry. The expected absorbed gamma radiation dose rates were compiled for 36 possible “application spaces” within the nuclear industry in which soft robotic systems could be employed. Samples composed of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and stretchable sensors containing liquid metal were chosen to represent materials and electronic components commonly used in soft robotic designs. These samples were exposed to 60Co gamma radiation doses ranging from 10 kGy to 120 kGy. Following irradiation, the samples were observed for any structural or physical changes and were then subjected to electrical resistance and tensile strength and elongation testing. These tests showed that PDMS and liquid-metal-based electronics maintain electrical and mechanical functionality at each absorbed gamma radiation dose within this range. However, post-irradiation structural changes in the PDMS samples leading to full material degradation were observed at doses above 90 kGy. Using this 90 kGy dose as a maximum dose recommendation for the tested materials, the potential of using soft robotic systems was evaluated for each investigated radiation environment. The results of the material irradiation and radiation environment evaluation are promising for soft robotic system applications across the nuclear industry. This analysis also outlines further research into soft robotic materials and components applicable to the deployment in radiation environments.
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