Research

MIT’s School of Architecture’s Self-Assembly Labs has partnered with Google to create these transformable meeting spaces.

The project uses a woven wood structure with fibreglass pods that depend from the ceiling which transforms from a large meeting space into a smaller one.

Transformable structures often require expensive and complex electromechanical systems to create movement. This research explores an alternative approach utilising transformable woven structures that can smoothly transform with lightweight and soft and materials/mechanisms. A series of prototypes were built at different sizes to demonstrate articulating woven structures for various applications.

Transformable Meeting Spaces are aimed at re-imagining interior office or building environments. There are two predominant approaches to office design – open spaces versus fixed offices. Open office plans have been shown to decrease productivity due to noise and privacy challenges yet they provide flexibility and collaborative opportunities. Fixed offices offer privacy and quite environments but restrict the type of working spaces available and occupy more square footage.

This research proposes an alternative whereby structures can easily transform between private phone booths, lounge spaces or other quiet meeting spaces into open flexible areas. By utilising woven and transformable materials these meeting spaces can expand and contract to create a meeting room for 6–8 people or morph into the ceiling leaving a clear and open area below.

The MIT School of Architecture’s Self-Assembly Lab has teamed up with Google to create Transformable Meeting Spaces, a project that utilizes woven structure research in wood and fiberglass pods that descend from the ceiling, transforming a large space into a smaller one. Designed as a small-scale intervention for reconfiguring open office plans—which “have been shown to decrease productivity due to noise and privacy challenges”—the pods require no electromechanical systems to function, but rather employ a flexible skeleton and counterweight to change shape.

Scientists have developed a method of allowing materials, commonly used in aircraft and satellites, to self-heal cracks at temperatures well below freezing.

The paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, is the first to show that self-healing materials can be manipulated to operate at very low temperatures (–60°C).

The team, led by the University of Birmingham (UK) and Harbin Institute of Technology (China), state that it could be applied to fibre-reinforced materials used in situations where repair or replacement is challenging such as offshore wind turbines, or even ‘impossible’, such as aircraft and satellites during flight.

Self-healing composites are able to restore their properties automatically, when needing repair. In favourable conditions, composites have yielded impressive healing efficiencies. Indeed, previous research efforts have resulted in healing efficiencies above 100%, indicating that the function or performance of the healed material can be better than that prior to damage.

However, until this paper, healing was deemed insufficient in adverse conditions, such as very low temperature. Similarly to how some animals in the natural world maintain a constant body temperature to keep enzymes active, the new structural composite maintains its core temperature.

Three-dimensional hollow vessels, with the purpose of delivering and releasing the healing agents, and a porous conductive element, to provide internal heating and to defrost where needed, are embedded in the composite.

Yongjing Wang, PhD student at the University of Birmingham, explained,

Both of the elements are essential. Without the heating element, the liquid would be frozen at –60°C and the chemical reaction cannot be triggered. Without the vessels, the healing liquid cannot be automatically delivered to the cracks.

A healing efficiency of over 100% at temperatures of –60°C was obtained in a glass fibre-reinforced laminate, but the technique could be applied across a majority of self-healing composites.

Tests were run using a copper foam sheet or a carbon nanotube sheet as the conductive layer. The latter of the two was able to self-heal more effectively with an average recovery of 107.7% in fracture energy and 96.22% in peak load.

The healed fibre-reinforced composite, or host material, would therefore have higher interlaminar properties – that is the bonding quality between layers. The higher those properties, the less likely it is that cracks will occur in the future.

Mr Wang also added;

Fibre-reinforced composites are popular due to them being both strong and lightweight, ideal for aircraft or satellites, but the risk of internal micro-cracks can cause catastrophic failure. These cracks are not only hard to detect, but also to repair, hence the need for the ability to self-heal.

The group will now look to eliminate the negative effects that heating elements have on peak load by using a more advanced heating layer. Their ultimate goal, however, is to develop new healing mechanisms for more composites that can recover effectively regardless the size of faults in any condition.

Rutgers University engineers have found a simple method for producing high-quality graphene that can be used in next-generation electronic and energy devices: bake the compound in a microwave oven.

The discovery published online in the journal Science was made by post-doctoral associates and undergraduate students and is a “major advance in the field” said Manish Chhowalla, professor and associate chair in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Rutgers’ School of Engineering.

This simple microwave treatment leads to exceptionally high quality graphene with properties approaching those in pristine graphene.

Having undergraduates as co-authors of a Science paper is rare but he said “the Rutgers Materials Science and Engineering Department and the School of Engineering at Rutgers cultivate a culture of curiosity driven research in students with fresh ideas who are not afraid to try something new.’’

Graphene, which comes from graphite, a carbon-based material is 100 times stronger than steel and conducts electricity better than copper rapidly dissipating and heat, making it useful for many applications. Large-scale production of graphene is necessary for applications such as printable electronics, electrodes for batteries and catalysts for fuel cells.

The easiest way to make large quantities of graphene is to exfoliate graphite into individual graphene sheets by using chemicals. The downside of this approach is that side reactions occur with oxygen – forming graphene oxide that is electrically non-conducting, which makes it less useful for products.

Removing oxygen from graphene oxide to obtain high-quality graphene has been a major challenge over the past two decades for the scientific community working on graphene. Oxygen distorts the pristine atomic structure of graphene and degrades its properties.

Chhowalla and his group members found that baking the exfoliated graphene oxide for just one-second in a 1,000-watt microwave oven, like those used in households across America, can eliminate virtually all of the oxygen from graphene oxide.

AGC AeroComposites, a supplier of composite aerospace assemblies has developed a new Innovative thermoplastic composite welding technique.

The company has recently completed their “CoFusion” project with funding from the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP), in partnership with the UK National Composites Centre, TenCate Advanced Composites and Rolls Royce. The project involved work to optimise the efficiency and applicability of an innovative, low-cost thermoplastic composite welding process.

The “CoFusion” project demonstrated that carbon/polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) composite thermoformed components can be reliably welded to form complex assemblies utilising resistive composite welding elements that contain no metal meshes or inserts.

The resulting welded components feature consistent high strength and fatigue properties that have been demonstrated at both coupon and component levels. Low cost equipment and materials can be used and the heating to welding temperature takes only three minutes. The process is not limited to flat components; panels with significant curvature can be welded reliably. All resulting welds are high quality with no voids passing standard ultrasonic Non-destructive Testing (NDT) specifications.

Welded top-hat sandwich panels were produced and structurally compared by torsional strength and fatigue testing to identical riveted parts. The welded component had higher stiffness and greater strength reaching five times that of the riveted component. The fatigue performance of the welded component was also significantly superior with no damage at 350,000 cycles in comparison to the riveted parts that only survived 50,000 cycles.

Wayne Exton, CEO of AGC AeroComposites said;

The CoFusion project was a tremendous opportunity for our company to pursue advances in composite technology, the ability to weld thermoformed thermoplastic composite components to form structurally efficient light weight assemblies allows us to continue to provide our global customer base with innovative, high quality, cost-effective products.

The NATEP funding ran for 18 months and had a total budget of £275,000; half of which was funded through NATEP

The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation in partnership with DuPont Performance Materials, Fibrtec and Purdue University announces the launch of the first project selected with a dual focus on decreasing the cost of manufacture and increasing design flexibility for automotive composites.

Multiple factors, including cost and design constraints, present barriers to the adoption of composites in high volume automotive applications. The new IACMI project will address both of these critical areas through a fundamentally different approach to the manufacturing of carbon fibre composites versus those currently in use today.

Flexible coated tow manufactured by Fibrtec will be formed into flexible fabric prepregs using a Rapid Fabric Formation (RFF) technology along with a proprietary polyamide resin both by DuPont. The final component will benefit from increased production speeds of the tow manufacturing process and the fabric forming process resulting in a lower cost of manufacture.

Composite parts made by this process have been shown to have low voids and good mechanical properties when consolidated by traditional techniques. The flexible fabric prepregs have also been shown to have good draping behaviour in moulding experiments. Researchers in the Purdue University Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Centre will work with the team to model and validate drapability and part performance.

By leveraging the strengths of all project partners, we have the potential to create a unique commercially viable path to high volume, low-cost thermoplastic composite automotive components.

High cycle time for production of continuous carbon fibre thermoplastic composites increases costs. The use of emerging materials for impregnation and new approaches for tow coating and fabric formation are expected to significantly lower production costs of high volume composites.

In work that aims to protect soldiers from biological and chemical threats, a team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists has created a material that is highly breathable yet protective from biological agents.

This material is the first key component of futuristic smart uniforms that also will respond to and protect from environmental chemical hazards.

High breathability is a critical requirement for protective clothing to prevent heat-stress and exhaustion when military personnel are engaged in missions in contaminated environments. Current protective military uniforms are based on heavyweight full-barrier protection or permeable adsorptive protective garments that cannot meet the critical demand of simultaneous high comfort and protection, and provide a passive rather than active response to an environmental threat.

The LLNL team fabricated flexible polymeric membranes with aligned carbon nanotube (CNT) channels as moisture conductive pores. The size of these pores (less than 5 nanometers, nm) is 5,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Ngoc Bui, the lead author of the paper said;

We demonstrated that these membranes provide rates of water vapour transport that surpass those of commercial breathable fabrics like GoreTex, even though the CNT pores are only a few nanometers wide.

To provide high breathability, the new composite material takes advantage of the unique transport properties of carbon nanotube pores. By quantifying the membrane permeability to water vapour, the team found for the first time that, when a concentration gradient is used as a driving force, CNT nano-channels can sustain gas-transport rates exceeding that of a well-known diffusion theory by more than one order of magnitude.

These membranes also provide protection from biological agents due to their very small pore size – less than 5 nanometers (nm) wide. Biological threats like bacteria or viruses are much larger and typically more than 10-nm in size. Performed tests demonstrated that the CNT membranes repelled Dengue virus from aqueous solutions during filtration tests. This confirms that LLNL-developed CNT membranes provide effective protection from biological threats by size exclusion rather than by merely preventing wetting.

Furthermore, the results show that CNT pores combine high breathability and bio-protection in a single functional material.

However, chemical agents are much smaller in size and require the membrane pores to be able to react to block the threat. To encode the membrane with a smart and dynamic response to small chemical hazards, LLNL scientists and collaborators are surface modifying these prototype carbon nanotube membranes with chemical-threat-responsive functional groups. These functional groups will sense and block the threat like gatekeepers on the pore entrance. A second response scheme also is in development – similar to how living skin peels off when challenged with dangerous external factors. The fabric will exfoliate upon reaction with the chemical agent.

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