Collaboration to focus on design technology

Nature offers a multitude of examples of how to design and build structures, and engineers often learn from its lessons. "The more I study nature," says Haris Doumanidis, associate professor of mechanical engineering, "the more I admire it."

A new design that emulates nature will enable manufacturers to make materials that are strong yet light. UniStates, a company based in Medford, has patented the design. The School of Engineering will establish a research laboratory facility under the direction of Doumanidis to demonstrate how materials can be manufactured using the new architecture. Eventually, UniStates will establish a commercial manufacturing facility.

In nature, Doumanidis explains, few substances are solid, but instead contain voids. Bone and wood are two of the best-known examples. "Nature creates voids because material that is porous has a higher strength-to-weight ratio," he said. "You have a stronger substance with a smaller amount of material."

The material architecture designed by UniStates is called RMT or Reflexive Materials Technology. Doumanidis says that with moving structures, such as cars or airplanes, engineers have tried to emphasize strength-to-weight ratio using steel and then aluminum and titanium alloys, all of which are full and continuous materials.

Technologically, he says, it has been difficult to create a porous material, but RMT has an internal architectural structure that guides the load so it is optimally distributed because of its internal porosity. According to UniStates, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco would look radically different if manufactured with the new process. Instead of the famous spans over the roadway, the bridge would simply be a roadway, allowing far less material to be used.

Doumanidis says that the new design technology will most likely be used, initially, in the aerospace industry to make aircraft parts lighter and stronger. But eventually, it could be used in the biomedical industry for implants and prostheses. Sporting goods, such as tennis rackets and skis, would also benefit from the design, as would automotive parts, appliances and packaging. The Tufts facility will manufacture samples, and engineering graduate students will be participating in the research and design. Some undergraduates also will be involved. Doumanidis says the program could result in a joint business venture with UniStates.







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