How To Encode The 'Memory' Of Materials
Researchers at Penn and the University of Chicago are able to use the "memory" of how materials were processed, stored, and manipulated to encode specific properties that allow it to perform new functions.
In this study, the researchers wanted to see if they could use a disordered material's "memory" of the prior stresses it had encountered to transform the material into something new. First, they ran computer simulations of normal materials under pressure and selectively altered atomic bonds to see which changes could make the material auxetic. They discovered that, by cutting the bonds along the areas with the most external stress, they could digitally create an auxetic material.
Using this insight, the team then took a Styrofoam-like material and added "memory" by allowing the material to age under specified stresses. To make the material auxetic they applied a constant pressure to the material and let it age naturally. "With the whole thing under pressure, it adjusted itself. It turned itself from a normal material into a mechanical metamaterial," says Liu.
This incredibly simple and effective process is a step closer towards a materials science "holy grail" of being able to create materials with specific atomic-level structures without the need for high-resolution equipment or atomic-level modifications. The approach described in this paper instead only requires a bit of patience while the system gains "memory" and then ages naturally.
I read the ultimate expression of this idea in Samuel R. Delany's 1966 masterpiece Babel-17:
"Annealed in any shape for a time, and codified, the structure of that shape is retained down to the molecules. At any angle to the direction that the matter has been polarized in, each molecule has completely free movement. Just jar it, and it falls into that structure like a rubber figure returning to shape."
(Read more about Tensile Memory Polarized Matter)
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