Innovative materials inspired by origami for the conquest of space and road safety

Advanced materials able to absorb shocks for spaceships and motor vehicles. Let’s find out about the features, the advantages and the importance of thermal analysis for their development.

Space vehicles like the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rockets are designed to be reusable. But this means that, like gymnasts hoping for a perfect 10, they have to take great care of their landings in order to be used in future expeditions.

Landing is indeed stressful for rocket trucks because they have to handle the force of the impact with the landing platform. A contribution to the solution of this problem comes from the Research & Development of new materials with the development of materials that absorb part of the impact force and cushion the blow.

Innovative materials inspired by the ancient art of origami

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new solution to help reduce impact forces for potential applications in spacecraft, cars and beyond.

Inspired by the art of folding origami paper, the team created a paper model of a metamaterial based on graphene that uses “folds on folds on folds” to soften impact forces and instead promote forces that relax stresses in the chain.

The team published the results of the study on May 24, 2019 in Science Advances.

“If you wore a football helmet made of this material and something hit the helmet”- explains Jinkyu Yang, a professor aeronautics and astronautics associate at the University of Washington and group leader of this research – you would never have the feeling that it hits your head. When the energy reaches you, it is no longer pushing.”

Yang and his team designed this new metamaterial to have the properties they wanted.

Innovative materials are like Lego blocks

“It is possible to realize all kinds of structures by repeating a single type of building block, or unit of cells, as we call it”, continues Mr. Yang – “Depending on how you design the unit cell, you can create a material with unique mechanical properties that are unprecedented in nature.

Researchers have turned to the art of origami to create this particular cellular unit and we would love to take a sneak peak of it on the next Material ConneXion, for instance.

“Origami is great for building the unit cell” – said co-author Yasuhiro Miyazawa, a graduate student in aeronautics and UW astronautics – “We can design materials that show different degrees of stiffness when they bend and unfold.

“Here we have created a unit cell that softens the force that feels when someone pushes it, and accentuates the tension that follows when the cell returns to its normal shape.”

A prototype of an innovative material completely made of paper

Just like origami, these unit cell prototypes are made of paper. The researchers used a laser cutter to cut dotted lines on the paper to indicate where to fold. The team folded the paper along the lines to form a cylindrical structure, and then glued acrylic plugs on both ends to connect the cells in a long chain.

The researchers aligned 20 cells and connected one end to a device that pushed and triggered a reaction across the chain. Using six GoPro cameras, the team monitored the initial compression wave and the subsequent voltage wave as the unit’s cells returned to normal.

The chain composed of the origami cells showed the counterintuitive movement of the wave: even though the compression force that pushed from the device triggered the entire reaction, that force never reached the other end of the chain. Instead, it was replaced by the tension force that started when the cells of the first unit returned to normal and spread faster and faster along the chain. Thus the cells of the unit at the end of the chain could only feel the force of tension that pushed them back.

A smart material able to reduce shocks and impacts

“Impact is a problem that we encounter on a daily basis, and our system provides a completely new approach to reducing its effects. For example, we would like to use it to help both people and cars better manage automobile accidents”, finally said Professor Yang.

An innovative material that is also an opportunity for investment

As Wall Street Italia writes, graphene – and the innovative materials that are made with it, not least the one designed by the Jinkyu Yang team – is extremely popular among investors.

This is because “it is a million times thinner than paper, but 100-300 times stronger than steel. Not only that, graphene is an excellent electrical conductor and has great flexibility, comparable to that of plastic.”

Its applications are therefore very numerous: road safety, tools for autonomy, construction, architecture, design, etc.

“Right now it’s made of paper, but we’re going to make it a composite material. Ideally, we could optimize the material for each specific application.”

Compressive strength and thermal performance of these new materials

Every time a new high-performance material is developed it is important to analyze and study its behavior at 360°.

What are the heat transfer properties of this new type of material? How do they correlate with other physical, mechanical and durability properties in the final environment of use? Innovation in the field of materials is increasingly passing through the analysis, study and optimization of the thermo-physical characteristics of the materials themselves.

This is why Thermocert’s team of materials specialists and laboratory technicians have developed a set of analyzes and tests in the thermal field.

To discover the thermal properties of woods, graphene, polymers and other materials, visit the Thermocert website, and find out how we can support you in the development and texts of high-performance materials that will allow you to gain competitive advantages or greater energy efficiency.

If you prefer, you can directly contact one of our materials specialists who will guide you the best.