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As Minecraft proved to the world, blocks – regardless of their size – are at the core of every possible structure. But what if those blocks themselves could perform certain functions, without the need for complex electronics and motors? That, in a nutshell, is what a team of Dutch researchers have developed in collaboration with Israeli colleagues. Their 3D printed metamaterial blocks hide programmable geometric patterns that perform a certain function when exposed to pressure. Perfect for customizable prostheses that can bend in a certain direction, or for custom shoes.
This remarkable material breakthrough was realized by researchers Corentin Coulais, Eial Teomy, Koen de Reus, Yair Shokef and AMOLF group leader professor Martin van Hecke. It has just been unveiled in a paper entitled Combinatorial Design of Textured Mechanical Metamaterials, published in the influential Nature journal.
Achievement - Rubber - Block - Building - Blocks
While a complex achievement, it is best illustrated by the remarkable rubber block visible above. Actually consisting of numerous building blocks, these have been programmed to deform in a certain pattern when exposed to pressure. In this particular case, several blocks bulge out to form a smiley face – but the same principles can be applied to very large 3D printed cubes with predictable and functional deformations as well. “In science the smiley seems to be the gold standard when you claim you are able to make any shape you want, but we could have made anything else,” says Coulais.
But programming those cubes can be really tricky. Combining several blocks with different orientations quickly creates a complex 3D jigsaw puzzle that can seize up if not properly designed. “The orientation of the blocks in the metamaterial is important. Under pressure, all of the hollow and bulging sides must fit exactly together. Most of the stacks are 'frustrated': somewhere within two hollows or bulges meet. However a...
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