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University of Michigan physicist awarded $7.5M Department of Defense grant

Xiaoming Mao designs metamaterials that change properties upon impact

Pictured is a 3D printed specimen of topological mechanical metamaterials. (Ellen Arruda, Xiaoming Mao, University of Michigan.)

ANN ARBOR – The U.S. Office of Naval Research has awarded a $7.5 million grant to a team of researchers led by the University of Michigan to bring metamaterial to life.

Metamaterials are unlike natural materials in that their properties are determined by how the material is structured. This allows them to be manipulated in different scenarios. When using the proper method, metamaterials can be formulated to have the property that you desire.

Led by physicist Xiaoming Mao, the five-year grant from the Department of Defense’s 2020 Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program will allow her put her theoretical work with metamaterial to practice.

Mao has been working on changing properties of metamaterials from the nanoscale to the macroscale upon impact. In other words, her metamaterials can change properties based on how they come into contact with certain objects by absorbing direct stress, shock and preventing damage.

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The research could have significant implications on the design of helmets and body armor that change properties upon direct collision impact. The DOD hopes that the team can develop lighter weight and more flexible protective equipment that could disperse impact of bullets, for instance.

“For cars, you can easily imagine that if you change the material’s surface between the stiffness of a metal and the softness of rubber, that could be very useful in collision protection,” Mao said in a news release. “These materials may have applications in defense, where it could be used to design helmets and armor.”

The team will use the grant to verify their method of self-assembling building blocks and 3D printing. The group includes researchers from the University of Illinois and Dartmouth College.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.