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MIT and IST Austria’s Unlocking Metamaterial Possibilities

Image credits: news.mit.edu
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Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria have embarked on a  milestone in metamaterials. They have developed an innovative computational technique that revolutionises how engineers design and create metamaterial cells using smaller building blocks.

Metamaterials, known for their properties that are not found in nature, have opened up unprecedented possibilities in various domains, from telecommunications and electronics to aerospace and medical devices. However, crafting these intricate structures has traditionally been challenging and time-consuming. The new specialised computer-aided design (CAD)-like system developed by MIT and Austria’s Institute of Science and Technology promises to change the game entirely.

This cutting-edge technique simplifies the once intricate process of designing metamaterials by breaking it into smaller building blocks. By doing so, engineers can now rapidly model complex metamaterials, drastically reducing the time and effort required for experimentation with various designs. The system’s efficiency and versatility enable researchers to explore a wide range of configurations and permutations, leading to the discovery of new and previously unimaginable metamaterial properties.

Imagine a designer sketching an architectural blueprint quickly, where each line and curve translates into an intricate metamaterial structure tailored to achieve specific functionalities. This novel approach allows engineers to fine-tune and optimise metamaterial designs quickly and efficiently, even those with complex geometries and multifaceted functionalities.

The user-friendly interface offers access to various potential metamaterial shapes, streamlining the design process and facilitating seamless configuration switching. MIT graduate student Liane Makatura co-leads this innovative approach, aiming to enhance metamaterial research and development.

When developing cellular metamaterials, scientists traditionally choose a representation that limits the exploration of potential designs to a specific set of shapes. However, a new graph-based approach allows for a more flexible representation, enabling users to model various shapes and symmetries easily.

This method simplifies the design process and allows the combining of different shapes, even highly complex ones like triply periodic minimal surfaces (TPMS). The user-friendly interface offers real-time previews and property predictions, facilitating iterative tweaking and evaluation until an optimal design is achieved.

The researchers further advanced their approach by developing automated exploration algorithms with specific rules, enabling the system to generate a large number of potential truss-based structures in a short time. In a user study involving individuals with little prior experience in metamaterial modelling, participants successfully created six structures using the procedural graph representation, highlighting its user-friendliness. Notably, even highly complex structures like triply periodic minimal surfaces (TPMS), typically challenging for experts to generate, were easily created by users.

Moving forward, the team aims to expand their technique by incorporating more sophisticated skeleton thickening procedures, thereby broadening the range of shapes that can be modelled. Additionally, they plan to explore the use of automatic generation algorithms to streamline the design process further.

In the long term, the researchers envision applying their system to inverse design, where users can specify desired material properties, and the algorithm will find the optimal metamaterial structure to meet those requirements.

By enabling users to articulate their material requirements and efficiently identifying optimal metamaterial structures, this innovative approach empowers engineers and scientists to unlock new frontiers in engineering applications, revolutionising industries and driving the next generation of materials technology. The future of metamaterial research is exciting, as this cutting-edge system brings us one step closer to realising the full potential of metamaterials and their impact on the world.

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