Researchers from Leeds University have developed a synthetic material with unique ‘auxetic’ properties. When stretched, the non-porous material becomes thicker and stronger at the molecular level. In the natural world, the biological properties of auxetics allow materials to absorb energy and resist fractures. The researchers' synthetic material mimics natural forms with similar auxetic properties such as tendons in the human body, the protective layer in mussel shells and cat skin.
In comparison to usual engineering products such as steel bars and rubber, which become increasingly porous and thinner when stretched, the synthetic material becomes thicker. Although the research is ongoing to fully understand synthetic auxetic behaviour and how the material can be applied commercially, the researchers predict that in the future, the material will be used for architectural and technological purposes, medical equipment and body armour.
The material was discovered when researching the capabilities of liquid crystal elastomers, which are used in television screens and mobile phones. The material, which is yet to be named, was created when the liquid crystal elastomers were linked to polymer chains to form rubbery networks. “Our results demonstrate a new use for liquid crystals beyond the flat screen monitors and televisions many of us are familiar with,” said Professor Helen Gleeson, study co-author and Head of Physics and Astronomy at Leeds University.
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The material has auxetic properties similar to cat skin. Image credit: Flickr