Metamaterial built from gears

November 22, 2016 by Erik Arends, Leiden Institute of Physics
Credit: Leiden Institute of Physics

A specifically designed collection of gears is soft on one end and rigid on the other. These robust properties hold even in the event of manufacturing imperfections. This emerging research may lead to new ways of designing geared devices like satellite trackers or watches, and the study has been reported in Physical Review X.

Imagine two connected gear wheels. Turning one clockwise causes the other to turn counterclockwise. Connecting a third gear to both causes the system to get stuck. Leiden physicists Anne Meeussen and Jayson Paulose now have developed a complex assembly of gears that sticks in one place, but which operates in another. Considered as a new metamaterial, it is rigid on one end and soft on the other.

In the video below, this remarkable mechanism seems like magic, but the researchers mathematically devised it. 'The beauty of this principle is that it's a robust system,' says group leader Prof. Vincenzo Vitelli. 'We can decide which parts are soft or rigid, and the mechanism keeps working even if the gears are imperfect. This property is often called topological robustness.'

Because the rigidity properties are inherent to the system, manufacturers can use the principle to build mechanical devices like watches using cheaper components, while preserving performance. Vitelli: 'This may be best applicable to tracking devices, like satellite trackers that are based on geared mechanisms.'

The development is inspired by electronic topological insulators, which earned the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. They insulate on the inside, but conduct electricity on their surfaces. And even if they have imperfections, the current will keep flowing. Instead of electronic properties, Vitelli's group addresses rigidity. His systems are rigid in selected places and soft in others, irrespective of .

Explore further: Topological protection in mechanical metamaterials

More information: Anne S. Meeussen et al. Geared Topological Metamaterials with Tunable Mechanical Stability, Physical Review X (2016). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.6.041029

Related Stories

Topological protection in mechanical metamaterials

January 19, 2015

Researchers at Leiden University, the Netherlands, showed that certain crystal defects in mechanical metamaterials can harbour topologically protected motions. These mechanical states are analogues of protected electronic ...

Researchers design metamaterial that buckles selectively

June 10, 2015

Researchers from Leiden University, the Netherlands, have designed a novel metamaterial that buckles on demand. Small structural variations in the material single out regions that buckle selectively under external stress, ...

Recommended for you

Trembling aspen leaves could save future Mars rovers

March 18, 2019

Researchers at the University of Warwick have been inspired by the unique movement of trembling aspen leaves, to devise an energy harvesting mechanism that could power weather sensors in hostile environments and could even ...

Quantum sensing method measures minuscule magnetic fields

March 15, 2019

A new way of measuring atomic-scale magnetic fields with great precision, not only up and down but sideways as well, has been developed by researchers at MIT. The new tool could be useful in applications as diverse as mapping ...

Researchers report new light-activated micro pump

March 11, 2019

Even the smallest mechanical pumps have limitations, from the complex microfabrication techniques required to make them to the fact that there are limits on how small they can be. Researchers have announced a potential solution—a ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.