New material thickens as it’s stretched

Auxetic material
Image courtesy Devesh Mistry/
University of Leeds.

What do you get when you link liquid crystals with polymer chains to form rubbery networks? The first synthetic material that becomes thicker as it is stretched. The discovery hails from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, where researchers were examining the capabilities of liquid crystal elastomers.

Materials in nature exhibit this type of auxetic behavior—think cat skin and tendons in the human body—but until now it has only been replicated synthetically by structuring conventional materials using complex engineering processes. Researchers at the University of Leeds found a way to create the material without time-consuming and costly engineering that can lead to weaker, porous products. The research was published today in Nature Communications.

The discovery will have significant benefits for the development of products with a wide range of applications, according to Dr. Devesh Mistry from the School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the research. "This new synthetic material is inherently auxetic on the molecular level and is therefore much simpler to fabricate and avoids the problems usually found with engineered products,” said Mistry on the university website. "But more research is needed to understand exactly how it can be used.”

Because auxetics excel at energy resorption and fracture resistance, the materials could find applications in body armor, architecture and medical equipment, mused Mistry. He added that a patent has been submitted and that the school has engaged with industry about possible next steps.

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