Researchers develop new method for creating `4D' shape-shifting structures

21 June 2017

Researchers have developed a new method for creating "4D" shape-shifting structures that could be used out in space, the extra fourth dimension being the way they altered their form after being manufactured, with only a temperature change.

With the cost of getting gear up into space so high, structures capable of staying compact in flight and getting them expanded when out in orbit could prove useful. The technique could also find biomedical applications.

The team from the Georgia Institute of Technology adapted standard 3D-printing techniques to build structures that shifted their shape reacting to temperature changes, based around the principle of tensegrity using the constant tension between a series of cables and rods to maintain structural integrity.

"We believe that you could build something like an antenna that initially is compressed and takes up little space, but once it's heated, say just from the heat of the Sun, would fully expand," said one of the researchers, Jerry Qi, Science Alert reported.

Central to the new objects were shape-memory polymers, materials that could take on one form, get bent out of shape, and then return to how they were originally, very handy for packing inside the close confines of a space capsule.

The struts were fabricated by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US from shape memory polymers that unfold when heated.

''Tensegrity structures are extremely lightweight while also being very strong,'' said Glaucio Paulino, a professor at Georgia Tech, PTI reported.

''That is the reason there is a heavy amount of interest right now in researching the use of tensegrity structures for outer space exploration. The goal is to find a way to deploy a large object that initially takes up little space,'' said Paulino.

The struts that made up one of the primary components of the tensegrity structure were 3D- printed.

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