Researchers Grow Artificial Hair Using Simple Physics

The Princeton researchers were able to turn an old set of engineering problems into a new manufacturing solution.
Derya Ozdemir

Nature has an abundance of patterns resulting from continuous far-from-equilibrium processes and systems that are rich in terms of diversity and complexity. Their complicated developmental conditions make investigating, modeling, and translating them to engineering a challenge. 

Inspired by nature and biological designs, Princeton University researchers have rationalized this inspiration with mathematical accuracy and come up with a comparatively simpler system that enables them to coat a liquid elastic on the outside of a disc and spin it to form complex patterns, per a press release.

Small spindles arise from the material as it cures after it's given the correct spin and grows as the disk accelerates. This technique of spinning liquid elastic polymers enabled researchers to form the kinds of intricate hair-like shapes required to create biomimetic surfaces. 

"Such patterns are ubiquitous in nature," said Pierre-Thomas Brun, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton and the study’s principal investigator. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Our approach leverages the way these structures form naturally."

The system combines a fluidic instability and large solid deformations in solidifying melts to produce soft solids with complex surface geometry. It is set on simple physics but turns an old set of engineering problems into a new manufacturing solution.

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The researchers wrote that the method is simple, cheap, and more sophisticated than conventional molds and that it could play a key role in developing robotic sensing capabilities. It is relevant to the broad range of problems where mechanical deformations and solidification are concomitant.

Amid a shift toward additive manufacturing, this could be a major part of the revolution by paving the way for the use of multistep moldless methods for the assembly of complex substances. 

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