Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a liquid chain mail that hardens on command. The fantastic material resembles a Batman cloak that can transform into wings. In the future, it could give exoskeletons unprecedented flexibility, as well as provide solid-state protection.
The team conducted tests at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where Caltech creates developments for NASA. The researchers speculate that the material could be used to anchor limbs in the event of injuries or even create structures such as a folding bridge.
“We want to create a soft tissue that can be rolled up, but if necessary, it will become rigid and will withstand stress,” says Chiara Darayo, professor of mechanical engineering at Caltech and author of the study on the material.
The development is based on a well-known concept. “Imagine vacuum-packed coffee,” says Darajo. As long as the package is closed, the ground coffee is solid. But if you open it, then the contents can be poured out like a liquid.
However, the chain mail is not made of ground coffee, but of intricate, intertwined shapes 3D printed using polymers and metals. In laboratory tests, the team found that when solid, the material can withstand more than 50 times its own weight.
Now scientists are looking for ways to easily change the state of a material from liquid to solid and vice versa. For example, Darayo suggested running the cables through it like “the laces on a sweatshirt.”
But it will probably be a long time before the invention will help patients recover from injuries or slide across the night sky like the Dark Knight.