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
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