Nav: Home

Legos and origami inspire next-generation materials

March 28, 2017

Inspired by the fun of playing with Legos, an international team of researchers from Tianjin University of Technology and Harvard University have used the idea of assembling building-blocks to make the promise of next-generation materials a practical reality.

Publishing online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar, 20, Nan Yang from the Laboratory for the Design and Intelligent Control of Advanced Mechatronical Systems and Jesse Silverberg from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering removed a key bottleneck slowing down the translation of scientific progress to commercial applications.

Silverberg described it like this: "Metamaterials are driving a revolution in material science. The current approach of building every-day stuff turns out to be limited because the materials we work with have a relatively narrow range of properties and capabilities."

Metamaterials go beyond what's found in nature by assembling simple elements into repeating patterns. At large scales, these smaller components influence the larger construction in unusual ways. Yang noted "The variety of applications is growing. Today we see mechanical metamaterials used to shape the flow of vibrational waves like earthquakes to protect buildings. Tomorrow, who knows what will be next."

The researchers, however, were concerned that these discoveries haven't been moving from the lab to the market fast enough. A challenge they noted was the time and difficulty of designing for real-world applications.

A few years ago, origami - the art of paper-folding - was recognized for its ability to rapidly convert flat sheets into 3D patterns with unusual metamaterial properties. "While easy to fold, the time required to find good designs for practical problems is often too costly," said Silverberg. "Suppose you wanted a mechanical metamaterial to absorb impact during a car crash. What's the best design for that? And even if you find a good folding pattern, does it even fit with the car's chassis?"

Both Yang and Silverberg have young children. They described their 'ah-ha' moment like this: "We were working late one night over Skype and we realized the solution was literally on the floor in front of us. What if we could build metamaterials like our kids build with Legos?"

This insight led the researchers to design a standard set of building-blocks. "We started designing a basic unit, kind of like the classic 2-by-4 Lego brick, but instead of making them in different colors, we gave them different mechanical properties. A stiff one, a soft one, etc," said Silverberg. Once designed, the team was able to create larger and more elaborate structures the same way their children were creating multi-colored ships and robots.

As examples, the researchers showed how to assemble two different types of mechanical `cloaking materials.' They also gave examples of how a pre-determined set of properties can be engineered into arbitrary 3D structures, a highly elusive challenge since the beginning of metamaterial research.

Yang went on, "Now that have a basic strategy, we're working out the design for even more 'bricks' and methods to rapidly assemble them." Silverberg added, "Looking ahead, we foresee tools that allow anyone with a computer to easily design complex metamaterials."
Yang's contribution to the research, "Decoupling local mechanics from large-scale structure in modular metamaterials" was supported by Tianjin Natural Science Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Silverberg was independently funded.

Media contact (China): Nan Yang
Media contact (USA): Jesse L. Silverberg

Tianjin University of Technology

Related Metamaterials Articles:

Ultrafast tunable semiconductor metamaterial created
An international team of researchers has devised an ultrafast tunable metamaterial based on gallium arsenide nanoparticles, as published by Nature Communications.
CCNY physicists demonstrate photonic hypercrystals for control of light-matter interaction
Control of light-matter interaction is central to fundamental phenomena and technologies such as photosynthesis, lasers, LEDs and solar cells.
3-D printers open new design space for wireless devices
Duke materials scientists and chemists have shown a way to bring electromagnetic metamaterials into the third dimension using commercial 3-D printers.
Legos and origami inspire next-generation materials
Inspired by the fun of playing with Legos, an international team of researchers from Tianjin University of Technology and Harvard University have used the idea of assembling building-blocks to make the promise of next-generation materials a practical reality.
Penn engineers' 'photonic doping' makes class of metamaterials easier to fabricate
By carefully combining multiple structures, metamaterials can exhibit properties that don't naturally exist.
New mechanical metamaterials can block symmetry of motion, findings suggest
Engineers and scientists at The University of Texas at Austin and the AMOLF institute in the Netherlands have invented the first mechanical metamaterials that easily transfer motion effortlessly in one direction while blocking it in the other.
A toolkit for transformable materials
Harvard researchers have developed a general framework to design reconfigurable metamaterials.
Metamaterials open up entirely new possibilities in optics
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have developed a method that enables them to manipulate light to follow any predetermined path along a surface.
Aviation enhancements, better biosensors could result from new sensor technology
Piezoelectric sensors measure changes in pressure, acceleration, temperature, strain or force and are used in a vast array of devices important to everyday life.
New math tools for new materials
University of Utah mathematician Graeme Milton presents a new tool for understanding how energy waves move through complex materials, opening up possibilities to design materials that absorb or bend energy as desired.

Related Metamaterials Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...