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Published August 30, 2016 | Supplemental Material + Published
Journal Article Open

Stable propagation of mechanical signals in soft media using stored elastic energy


Soft structures with rationally designed architectures capable of large, nonlinear deformation present opportunities for unprecedented, highly tunable devices and machines. However, the highly dissipative nature of soft materials intrinsically limits or prevents certain functions, such as the propagation of mechanical signals. Here we present an architected soft system composed of elastomeric bistable beam elements connected by elastomeric linear springs. The dissipative nature of the polymer readily damps linear waves, preventing propagation of any mechanical signal beyond a short distance, as expected. However, the unique architecture of the system enables propagation of stable, nonlinear solitary transition waves with constant, controllable velocity and pulse geometry over arbitrary distances. Because the high damping of the material removes all other linear, small-amplitude excitations, the desired pulse propagates with high fidelity and controllability. This phenomenon can be used to control signals, as demonstrated by the design of soft mechanical diodes and logic gates.

Additional Information

© 2016 National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print August 12, 2016. Edited by Monica Olvera de la Cruz, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, and approved June 27, 2016 (received for review March 24, 2016. We thank Drs. Sicong Shan, Farhad Javid, and Daniele Foresti for valuable assistance. K.B. and J.A.L. acknowledge support from the Harvard Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) through Grant DMR-1420570. K.B. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Grant CMMI-1149456 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. N.N. and C.D. acknowledge support from the NSF under Grant CMMI-1200319. D.M.K. acknowledges support from the NSF through CAREER Award CMMI-1254424. Author contributions: J.R.R., C.D., D.M.K., J.A.L., and K.B. designed research; J.R.R. and N.N. performed research; J.R.R. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; J.R.R., N.N., C.D., D.M.K., J.A.L., and K.B. analyzed data; and J.R.R., N.N., C.D., D.M.K., J.A.L., and K.B. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplemental Material - pnas.201604838SI.pdf


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