University of Massachusetts Amherst scientists have developed a new rubber-like solid substance that has surprising qualities. The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The substance can absorb and release very large quantities of energy and it is programmable. The new material holds great promise for a very wide array of applications. This includes enabling robots to have more power without using additional energy.
This hypothetical rubber band is made out of a new metamaterial. This is a substance engineered to have a property not found in naturally occurring materials. It combines an elastic, rubber-like substance with tiny magnets embedded in it. This new “elasto-magnetic” material takes advantage of a physical property which is known as a phase shift. It can amplify the amount of energy the material can release or absorb.
A phase shift happens when a material moves from one state to another. Like water turning into steam or liquid concrete hardening into a sidewalk. Energy is either released or absorbed, whenever a material shifts its phase. Phase shifts aren’t just limited to changes between liquid, solid and gaseous states. A shift can occur from one solid phase to another. A phase shift releases energy. It can be harnessed as a power source. But getting enough energy has always been the difficult part.
Scientists have been inspired by some of the lightning-quick responses seen in nature. Like the snapping-shut of Venus flytraps and trap-jaw ants. The research has applications in any scenario where either high-force impact is needed.