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MIT researchers develop new ‘metamaterial’ that shrinks when heated

Most solid materials expand when exposed to heat. But apparently, not all.

Summer memories tend to involve the sound of the house creaking from the blazing sun and cracks forming in the edge of the swimming pool from the constant warmth. But, researchers from MIT and the University of Southern California are exploring the idea that heat may not always cause expansion.

The researchers have created strikingly unusual, yet beautiful star-shaped objects using a 3D printer. Two different materials are intertwined to create this object. One material is a slow-expanding substance containing copper, the second is a more elastic, fast-expanding material. The unique configuration of the materials allows them to not only deflect expansion due to heat, but also shrink.

These are being named ‘metamaterials’. Basically due to the particular placement of each material, their usual response to expand under heat is undermined.

The concept resembles that of a Hoberman sphere. The idea of the sphere has been made into children’s toys. If you didn’t have one, then your younger sibling probably did. The toy was a colourful sphere which folded in on its joins and increased and decreased in size. No one really knew what to do with it.

Just like the sphere, researchers have discovered as one material tries to expand, the other substance will counteract this, resulting in a shrinkage and finally, a smaller object.

There is definitely room for researchers to expand their experiments to an array of materials, shapes, and structures.

This may seem like an odd experiment, however the uses for heat resistant structures could be extremely useful. This formulation would be priceless for computers and microchips where heat is a constant. This could contribute to a new technological age of immortal computers.

Even if nothing comes from this experiment, I’m sure we can all agree that the objects are really cool looking.

About the author

Bronte is a media student at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). She enjoys music, fitness, and exploring the city.

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