July 28, 2016

Meta-material Fits Like a Glove

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To demonstrate that any pattern can be produced on a cube’s surface, the researchers developed a cube of 10x10x10 blocks on which a smiley face appears when the cube is compressed. Photograph by Corentin Coulais, Leiden University and FOM Institute AMOLF.

A new meta-material that fits the body like a glove has been engineered by scientists at Tel Aviv University (TAU), Israel; Leiden University, Netherlands; and the Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF), Amsterdam, Netherlands. The material has unique properties and has potential applications for items that require exact fitting on the human body, such as custom-made prostheses. The advantage of the meta-material is that it can be produced to fit any format. The achievement was published July 27 in the journal Nature.

“Meta-materials are smart materials engineered by man and not found in nature,” said Yair Shokef, PhD, head of the research group at TAU’s School of Mechanical Engineering. “In contrast to the materials currently being used, whose characteristics are determined by their chemical composition (atoms and molecules), the physical properties of meta-materials result from their spatial structure. Thus, the special building blocks and how they fit together determine the characteristics of the meta-material.”

This particular meta-material is a cube-shaped, hollow, flexible building block. If pressure is applied to the block then some of the sides cave in, whereas others bulge out. The material interfaces well with biological surfaces, such as the human body, which is not uniform by nature. By stacking several of these building blocks researchers can make 3D structures. Using computational tools to place the building blocks within the structure allows the researchers to create the outer surface of the structure with all the desirable contours. For example, it will be possible in the future to build prostheses that closely fit the residual limb, improving the user’s comfort and the function of the prosthesis.

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by TAU.

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