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News contact: Steve McGregor, UTD, (972) 883-2293, [email protected]

U.T. Dallas Nanotechnologist Invents
Molecular-Scale Mechanical Amplifiers

Discovery Exploits Bizarre Properties of Auxetic Materials

Dr. Ray H. BaughmanRICHARDSON, Texas (Oct. 15, 2003) - Dr. Ray H. Baughman of The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) has discovered that rare materials that increase density when stretched can be used to amplify the response of sensors and actuators.

While ordinary materials act like a rubber band by becoming thinner when elastically stretched, these unusual materials – known as stretch-densified, auxetic materials – contract in one lateral direction and expand in another lateral direction when stretched. This combination of lateral expansion and contraction can enable both dimensional changes to be gigantic -- thereby amplifying mechanical strain.

The discovery is reported by Baughman, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and director of the UTD NanoTech Institute, in the Oct. 16 issue of the prestigious scientific journal Nature.

“These strange Alice-in-Wonderland-like properties result for investigated crystals containing molecule-size levers, so the amplification effect will still appear when these crystals are scaled down to nanoscale dimensions, more than 500 times smaller than the width of a human hair,” said Baughman. “Hence, they could be used to amplify the displacements needed for sub-microscopic pumps and valves used for a ‘chemical laboratory on a chip’ – an assembly of chemical equipment that could be much smaller than a postage stamp. On a larger scale, the enabled amplification of sensor signal effects might be used to make much more sensitive sonar for mine detection and sensors to detect trace chemicals and biochemicals.”

Baughman’s latest work builds on research he has published in the journals Nature and Science with Dr. Anvar Zakhidov, associate director of the UTD NanoTech Institute, and other colleagues from Brazil and Sweden, as well as on the work of such pioneers as Dr. Roderick Lakes of the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Ken E. Evans of the University of Exeter and Dr. Michael Ashby of Cambridge University.

The research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the United States Department of Defense, by the Robert A. Welch Foundation and by the Strategic Partnership for Research in Nanotechnology, a federally funded consortium of four Texas universities co-founded by UTD.
To access the “concepts” article describing Baughman’s work, please visit the Nature web site, www.nature.com.


About UTD
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor, enrolls about 13,700 students. The school's freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university's web site at www.utdallas.edu.

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This page last updated
October 15, 2003