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Morphing surfaces optimize aerodynamics

NSF Award:

CAREER: Smart Morphable Surfaces for Aerodynamic Drag Control  (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

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Although it may seem counterintuitive, dimpled surfaces--whether on a golf ball or car--are more aerodynamic than smooth ones. Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have created a process that allows an object's surface texture to be changed at will, allowing it to transform from smooth to dimpled and back again.

The ability to create objects whose aerodynamic properties can be adjusted according to changing conditions may enable the design of faster, more fuel efficient vehicles.

To achieve this flexibility, the researchers apply pressure to a multilayer material that has a stiff skin and a soft, compliant interior. When the pressure decreases, the flexible material shrinks, causing the outer layer to wrinkle and form dimples. When the pressure increases, the surface becomes smooth again.

 

Image

  • soft polymers with hollow centers coated with a stiffer polymer can change shape on demand
This soft polymer sphere has a hollow center and a stiff polymer coating. It shrinks when air is removed from the center.
Denis Terwagne and Pedro M. Reis, MIT

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