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Programmable materials seen to revolutionize mechanics

Posted: 04 Apr 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Empa  ETH Zurich  mechanics  programmable material  metamaterial 

Researchers from Empa and ETH Zurich have developed a prototype of a vibration-damping material that according to them could significantly change the world of mechanics. They stated that the material is not only capable of damping vibrations completely, but can also specifically conduct certain frequencies further.

Although the "programmable material" still only works in a 1D model construction, it has demonstrated it unusual capabilities: The research project entitled Phononic Crystal with Adaptive Connectivity noted that the first step towards mechanical components with freely programmable properties has thus been achieved.

The working model used by the researchers consists of a one-meter by 1cm aluminum plate that is 1mm thick. This sheet-metal strip can vibrate at different frequencies. In order to control the wave propagation, ten small aluminum cylinders (7mm thick, 1cm high) are attached to the metal. Between the sheet and the cylinders sit piezo discs, which can be stimulated electronically and change their thickness in a flash. This ultimately enables the team headed by project supervisor Andrea Bergamini to control exactly whether and how waves are allowed to propagate in the sheet-metal strip. The aluminum strip thus turns into a so-called adaptive phononic crystal, a material with adaptable properties.

Programmable material

Working model of the programmable material

The piezo controls can now be set in such a way that waves are able to propagate through the sheet-metal strip "perfectly normally," i.e. as though no aluminum cylinders were attached to it. Another configuration enables a certain frequency spectrum of the waves to be absorbed. And this muffling is variable as the piezo elements can alter their elastic properties electronically in fractions of a second, from low to high stiffness. Bergamini explained what could develop from the research results: "Imagine you produce a sheet of metal, imprinted with an electronic circuit and small piezo elements at regular intervals. This sheet metal could be programmed electronically to block a certain vibration frequency. The interesting thing is that even if you cut off part of the sheet, the waves in the cropped section would largely spread in the same way as in the initial piece." This method could be used on 3D components.

Such a "metamaterial" could fundamentally revolutionise mechanical engineering and plant construction. Until now, the vibration properties were already determined in the selection of material and the geometry of the part. In future, the material could react to current vibration readings and adapt its vibration properties at lightning speed.

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