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Thu Dec 6, 2018, 04:02 AM

Technique inspired by dolphin chirps could improve tests of soft materials

Method can be used to quickly characterize any soft, rapidly changing substance, such as clotting blood or drying cement.
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Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office
December 6, 2018

When you deform a soft material such as Silly Putty, its properties change depending on how fast you stretch and squeeze it. If you leave the putty in a small glass, it will eventually spread out like a liquid. If you pull it slowly, it will thin and droop like viscous taffy. And if you quickly yank on it, the Silly Putty will snap like a brittle, solid bar.

Scientists use various instruments to stretch, squeeze, and twist soft materials to precisely characterize their strength and elasticity. But typically, such experiments are carried out sequentially, which can be time-consuming.

Now, inspired by the sound sequences used by bats and dolphins in echolocation, MIT engineers have devised a technique that vastly improves on the speed and accuracy of measuring soft materials’ properties. The technique can be used to test the properties of drying cement, clotting blood, or any other “mutating” soft materials as they change over time. The researchers report their results today in the journal Physical Review X.

“This technique can help in many industries, [which won’t] have to change their established instruments to get a much better and accurate analysis of their processes and materials,” says Bavand Keshavarz, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.


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