Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Applied Physics

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Material Inspired by Chain Mail Transforms from Flexible to Rigid on Command


Engineers at Caltech and JPL have developed a material inspired by chain mail that can transform from a foldable, fluid-like state into specific solid shapes under pressure. "We wanted to make materials that can change stiffness on command," says Chiara Daraio, G. Bradford Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics. "We'd like to create a fabric that goes from soft and foldable to rigid and load-bearing in a controllable way." To explore what materials would work best, Daraio, together with former Caltech postdoctoral researcher Yifan Wang and former Caltech graduate student Liuchi Li (PhD '19) as co-lead authors of the Nature paper, designed a number of configurations of linked particles, from linking rings to linking cubes to linking octahedrons (which resemble two pyramids connected at the base). The materials were 3-D printed out of polymers and even metals, with help from Douglas Hofmann, principal scientist at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. These configurations were then simulated in a computer with a model from the group of José E. Andrade, the George W. Housner Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and Caltech's resident expert in the modeling of granular materials. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS Chiara Daraio MCE Jose Andrade KNI Yifan Wang Liuchi Li