A magical combination Scientists develop a new class of materials

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Buckle material

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A deformed material that is both rigid and capable of absorbing vibrations. Credit: D. Dykstra et al.

Would you rather run into a brick wall or a mattress? Most people would find this decision easy. The hardness of a brick wall does not effectively dampen shocks or vibrations, while a mattress, with its softness, acts as an excellent shock absorber. Interestingly, in the context of material design, both of these characteristics can be desired.

The materials must be able to dissipate vibrations, but at the same time maintain sufficient stiffness to avoid collapse under significant pressure. A team of researchers at the UvA Institute of Physics has now found a way to design materials that do both of those things.

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Usually the two characterizations of a material are mutually exclusive: something is either rigid, or it can absorb vibrations well but rarely both. However, if we could make stiff, vibration-absorbing materials, there would be a whole range of potential applications, from nanoscale design to aerospace engineering.


A sample of rubber metamaterial with a mass on it is subjected to excitations: first with increasing frequency and then with decreasing frequency. When subjected to great excitation, the sample deforms. Instability is more pronounced with decreasing frequency. Credit: University of Amsterdam

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Instability does the trick

A team of researchers at the University of Amsterdam has now found a way to create materials that are stiff, but still able to absorb vibrations and, just as importantly, that can be kept very light.

David Dykstra, lead author of the publication, explains: We found that the trick was to use materials that bend, such as thin sheets of metal. If assembled intelligently, constructions made with such folded plates become excellent vibration absorbers but at the same time retain much of the rigidity of the material of which they are made. Also, the sheets need not be very thick and thus the material can be kept relatively light.

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The picture (beginning of the article) shows an example of a material that uses this sheet metal deformation to combine all these desired properties.


A sample of metallic metamaterial with a mass on it is subjected to excitations: first with increasing frequency and then with decreasing frequency. When subjected to great excitation, the sample deforms. Instability is more pronounced with decreasing frequency. Credit: University of Amsterdam

A myriad of applications

The researchers thoroughly investigated the properties of these deformed materials and found that they all exhibited this magical combination of stiffness and ability to dissipate vibrations. Since known materials do not have this desired combination of properties, new materials made in the laboratory (or[{” attribute=””>metamaterials) have a very wide range of potential applications, and at a very wide range of scales.

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Possible uses range from meter-sized (think of aerospace, automotive applications, and many other civil designs) to the microscale (applications such as microscopes or nanolithography).

Dykstra: Humans like to build things small things and big things and we almost always want these structures to be light. If that can be done with materials that are both stiff and good at shock-absorbing, many existing designs can be improved and many new designs become possible. There really is no end to the possible applications!

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Reference: Buckling Metamaterials for Extreme Vibration Damping by David M.J. Dykstra, Coen Lenting, Alexandre Masurier and Corentin Coulais, 18 May 2023, Advanced Materials.
DOI: 10.1002/adma.202301747


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