A research team from the University of Massachusetts is creating a phase change material made of magnets and rubber. They specifically place the magnets for predictable properties. Embedding magnets within the elastic material and coding their poles with different colors allows the team to orient the magnets in different directions. This changes the response of the material so that it can both absorb and release energy.
The magnets and rubber combination can not only drive high-power motion but can also quickly dampen impact-loading events. The material has several promising applications. It boosts the performance of robots, and improves helmets and other protective equipment, enabling them to dissipate energy quickly. The team uses laser cutters to make snug receptacles in the rubber for placing the 3 mm wide magnets, which are commonly available in stores.
Stretching the material causes a phase change, a physical property. By stretching it far enough, it is possible to reach a phase transition, where the material releases substantial potential energy. The team claims that the energy released can power a vehicle.
According to the researchers, the phase transition can store additional energy beyond that going into it mechanically. Therefore, a drone can easily recover this additional energy that the material releases. The excess energy gives the drone an extra boost.
The magnets assist in the phase shift, and this substantially amplifies the quantity of energy the material is releasing or absorbing. The team has discovered a way to use the magnets to fine-tune this phase shift.
The elastic properties of the rubber and the geometry of the holes determine the specific placement of the magnets. The team can tailor the specific response by controlling the elastic properties of the rubber strip, the hole geometry, the magnetic strength, and their placement positions. They claim the phase shift is both predictable and repeatable. They claim they can control the performance of the metamaterial, such as absorbing the energy caused by a large impact or releasing huge amounts of energy for an explosive movement. The team claims this metamaterial has helped them understand high-speed, high-acceleration movements.
The team has taken inspiration from similar fast-moving organisms in nature. This includes the trap-jaw ant and the mantis shrimp. Nature combines several fields to influence the way animals to store energy, including mechanically, chemically, or elastically.
To understand the concept that nature uses, the team combined magnetic fields with elastic forces. They combined them in synthetic materials for use in drones or robots. They claim they can tune the material to be efficient in the use of energy, such as for jumping robots that can transverse various obstacles.
Stretching the metamaterial makes it act just as a regular rubber band or a regular spring would. However, stretching it to a large extent makes the material go through a phase change, allowing it to store more energy than what it is receiving from the stretching. Releasing the material causes it to release the stored energy. A drone can use this extra energy for a boost.