New Method Simplifies Construction of Complex Materials

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For instance, she may choose a technique that represents metamaterials using many interconnecting beams. However, this prevents her from exploring metamaterials based on other elements, such as thin plates or 3D structures like spheres. Those shapes are given by different representations, but so far there hasn’t been a unified way to describe all shapes in one method.

First published Aug. 2, 2023, on MIT News.

In addition, the researchers conducted a user study with 10 individuals who had little prior experience modeling metamaterials. The users were able to successfully model all six structures they were given—and most agreed that the procedural graph representation made the process easier.

Their approach, like a specialized CAD (computer-aided design) system for metamaterials, allows an engineer to quickly model even very complex metamaterials and experiment with designs that may have otherwise taken days to develop. The user-friendly interface also enables the user to explore the entire space of potential metamaterial shapes, since all building blocks are at their disposal.

“Our representation makes all sorts of structures more accessible to people,” says Makatura. “We were especially pleased with users’ ability to generate TPMS. These complex structures are usually difficult even for experts to generate. Still, one TPMS in our study had the lowest average modeling time out of all six structures, which was surprising and exciting.”

They also created automated exploration algorithms, giving each a set of rules and then turning it loose in their system. In one test, an algorithm returned more than 1,000 potential truss-based structures in about an hour.

“By combining those two observations, we arrived at this idea that cellular metamaterials could be well-represented as a graph structure,” she says.

Within the user interface, designers can preview the current structure at any point in the building procedure and directly predict certain properties, such as its stiffness. Then, the user can iteratively tweak some parameters and evaluate it again until a suitable design is reached.

A user-friendly framework

At the end of the process, the system outputs the entire graph-based procedure, showing every operation the user took to reach the final structure—all the vertices, edges, solvers, transformations, and thickening operations.

Engineers are constantly searching for materials with novel, desirable property combinations. For example, an ultrastrong, lightweight material could be used to make airplanes and cars more fuel-efficient, or a material that is porous and biomechanically friendly could be useful for bone implants.

They also noticed that cellular metamaterials often have symmetries, so only a small part of the structure needs to be represented. The rest can be built by rotating and mirroring that initial piece.

Researchers from MIT and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria have developed a computational technique that makes it easier for a user to quickly design a metamaterial cell from any of those smaller building blocks, and then evaluate the resulting metamaterial’s properties.

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“With our representation, you can also start combining these shapes. Perhaps a unit cell containing both a TPMS structure and a beam structure could give you interesting properties. But so far, those combinations really haven’t been explored to any degree,” Makatura says.

“We came up with a representation that can cover all of the different shapes engineers have traditionally shown interest in. Because you can build them all the same way, that means you can switch between them more fluidly,” says MIT electrical engineering and computer science graduate student Liane Makatura, co-lead author of a paper on this technique.

This research is partially funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the MIT Morningside Academy Design Fellowship, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an ERC Consolidator Grant, and the NewSat project.

Innovation

New Method Simplifies Construction of Complex Materials

User-friendly interface enables researchers to quickly design unique cellular metamaterial structures

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With their graph-based representation, a user builds a metamaterial skeleton using smaller building blocks that are created by vertices and edges. The system outputs the entire graph-based procedure (seen below each yellow shape), which shows every operation the user took to reach the final structure. Image courtesy of the researchers.

The process for surfaces is similar—the user marks the most important features with vertices and then chooses a solver that infers the rest of the surface.


Researchers from MIT and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria have created a technique to include many different building blocks of cellular metamaterials into one, unified graph-based representation. They used this representation to create a user-friendly interface that an engineer can use to quickly and easily model metamaterials, edit the structures, and simulate their properties. Image courtesy of the researchers.

“By choosing a specific subspace ahead of time, you limit your exploration and introduce a bias based on your intuition,” says Makatura. “While this can be useful, intuition can be incorrect, and some of the other shapes may have also been worth exploring for your particular application.”

The researchers used their system to re-create structures that spanned many unique classes of metamaterials. Once they had designed the skeletons, each metamaterial structure took only seconds to generate.

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