This new material can ‘bend’ elastic waves

Engineers from the University of Missouri have developed a new material that can control the direction of elastic waves. These include sound waves and shockwaves and travel on or through a material without changing it. In the past, scientists have tried (and failed) to manipulate these waves using rubber or metal.

The team at Missouri, led by Guoliang Huang, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, built what’s known as a metamaterial – a material designed to have properties that aren’t naturally-occurring. They engraved a sheet of steel with asymmetrical geometric patterns (also known as chirals). They believe that if this is used in new devices, it will be able to sense elastic waves, and that we can use that technology for all kinds of things, from cloaking to improving broadband signals.

In order to use it to full effect, however, the researchers will need to make their material more than just a passive receptor. By integrating microchips they can ensure that it picks up on elastic wave frequencies and directs them in the direction needed for different functions. This would allow it to be used in super-sensitive hearing aids, sophisticated lens that enhance imaging techniques, and a range of medical and military gadgetry that could greatly improve people’s lives. ‘The possibilities truly are endless,’ says Huang.

Image credit: Guoliang Huang.

Diane Shipley