This exotic new material somehow gets thicker when stretched

synthetic material thinner as stretched image1 lce
Devesh Mistry

Stretch just about any material and what happens to it? It gets thinner, of course. It turns out that this isn’t a universal rule, however. Scientists at the U.K.’s University of Leeds have discovered a new synthetic material which actually gets thicker the more it’s stretched. Referred to as a liquid crystal elastomer, it’s composed of the same liquid crystal material most commonly seen in flat screen monitors and television displays.

“This behavior of increasing in thickness as a material is stretched is known as ‘auxetic’ behavior,” Dr. Devesh Mistry from Leeds’ School of Physics and Astronomy — though soon to join the University of Colorado, Denver — told Digital Trends. “Until now, manmade auxetics require a material prepared with specific structures allowing the auxetic response. Our material does not require such structures as the behavior is inherent to the material, and is a result of molecular restructuring inside the material.”

Mistry said that the synthetic material’s unusual properties aren’t just interesting from a materials science research perspective; they also open up some intriguing real-world possibilities, ranging from medical use cases to futuristic body armor. “This is exciting as auxetics are known to have enhanced mechanical behaviors such as shock absorbance and tear resistance,” he continued. “[Because of this,] these simpler materials have a great number of potential applications from biomedical devices to flexible electronics.”

Some examples of other auxetic materials include cat skin, tendons in the human body, and the protective layer in mussel shells. Researchers have been trying to replicate these qualities synthetically for decades, but until the present day, they’ve only been able to do it using costly, time-consuming processes. Further, while some of the auxetic properties of natural materials are carried across to these previous synthetics, the lab-made materials have proven disappointingly weak and porous in some cases.

As a result, this new research — based around a synthetic molecular version of auxetic materials — is an exciting step forward. Don’t expect it to roll out as a finished product any time soon, though. “One of the next key things to understand is what the molecular processes are that are driving this behavior,” Mistry said. “Once we understand this, we will be able to tune the behavior for specific applications and design new materials for devices.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Emerging Tech

New experiment casts doubt on claims to have identified dark matter

A South Korean experiment called COSINE-100 has attempted to replicate the claims of dark matter observed by the Italian DAMA/LIBRA experiment, but has failed to replicate the observations.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Outdoors

The best sleeping bags to help you conquer the cold, no matter what season it is

A proper sleeping bag has the ability to make or break a camping or backpacking trip. Here are our picks for the best sleeping bags on the market to help you choose the correct bag for any type of outdoor adventure.
Emerging Tech

Gases around black holes form dynamic fountains, not rigid donuts

The rings of gas that surround black holes were previously thought to be donut-shaped. But now it seems that the gases around the black hole are in constant circulation, forming a shape like a water fountain.
Emerging Tech

Robot janitors will soon be scrubbing the floors at your local Walmart

Hundreds of robot janitors will soon be working at Walmart stores across the U.S. The company says the autonomous floor scrubbers will free its human staff from monotonous tasks so they can spend more time helping customers.
Emerging Tech

This implant goes beyond pacemakers, helps aging hearts beat more vigorously

The FDA's advisory committee has voted to recommend an innovative pacemaker-style gadget be approved in the U.S. The Optimizer Smart Implantable Pulse Generator boosts performance, strength, and pumping ability of weakened heart chambers.
Emerging Tech

Early-detection system for wildfires could save many states from big burns

When it comes to dealing with the growing problem of raging wildfires, a new wireless smart sensor system could help spot burgeoning blazes before they rage out of control. Here's how it works.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Black Diamond and Petzl to Coast here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk to unveil tunnel elevators and autonomous pods on December 18

We'll soon learn if Elon Musk's high-speed tunnel plan is a serious effort at ending traffic jams or little more than a fancy theme park ride. A big unveiling event is coming on December 18, a week later than originally planned.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.