A group of scientists from the Federal Polytechnic School, in Switzerland, developed a metamaterial that, even when ready, can have its mechanical properties reprogrammed. With this, a single item can fulfill numerous mechanical functions on demand. However, to analyze the importance of the discovery, it is necessary to briefly explain what metamaterials are.
Generally speaking, they are artificial objects that allow high manipulation in their creation and whose properties are not present in nature. Among the achievements made using this technology are, for example, new forms of instant computing.
However, metamaterials offer some challenges when applying outside of laboratories. The biggest one is the fact that each metamaterial needs to be designed and manufactured to fulfill a specific function. This means that, once ready, it can no longer be changed.
To overcome this limitation, a group of researchers led by expert Tian Chen added a new element to the equation: reprogrammable properties. As a result, a metamaterial made of silicon and magnetic powder with variable mechanical properties was produced.
“The idea was to develop a unique material that could have a range of physical properties, such as rigidity and strength, so that the materials did not have to be replaced each time,” explained Tian Chen.
“For example, when you sprain your ankle, you initially have to use a rigid splint to hold the ankle in place; then, as it heals, you can switch to a more flexible splint. Today you have to replace the entire splint, but the hope is that one day, a single material can serve both functions, “exemplifies the scientist.