Boasting the ability to block, absorb or enhance electromagnetic waves, metamaterials forgo the conventions of natural materials, instead deriving their properties from their specially designed structures and not the materials they are made from. Furthering advances in this arena, scientists at the University of Bristol have created a shape-shifting material using Kirigami – the ancient Japanese technique of cutting and folding to create 3D shapes.
Developed by PhD student Robin Neville, the material has the ability to seamlessly change its shape and purpose through only small geometrical alterations. Circuits and sensors can be printed onto the flat sheet before the Kirigami method is applied, creating an integrated smart structure that can adapt to environmental conditions according to pre-programmed specifications.
Autonomous materials are an important focus for innovation across product design, fashion and architecture. Moving away from their status as scientific experiments, these metamaterials are now at the centre of everyday products and processes, providing function and aesthetic inspiration for anything from textiles to architecture. In 2015, scientists at North Carolina State University developed a negative density metamaterial, designed to deflect sound waves away from passengers in aeroplane cabins. Meanwhile in August 2016, researchers at the Italian universities of Torino and Trento, and London's Queen Mary University, developed metamaterial 'shields' that divide devastating earthquake tremors into less severe waves.
Produced simply and affordably using off-the-shelf thermoplastic or thermostat composite materials, the Kirigami metamaterial has numerous product development opportunities including robotics and smart antennas.
For more on the shape-shifting materials furthering material innovation, see Materials Focus 2018: Shape-Shifting Materials.