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Building Envelope

Designing flexible material to protect buildings

University of Missouri researchers designed a flexible material that can help buildings withstand multiple waves of energy traveling through a solid material, including the ground motions found in earthquakes.

By Eric Stann May 29, 2020
A team of engineers at the University of Missouri has designed a flexible material that can help buildings withstand multiple waves of energy traveling through a solid material, including the ground motions found in earthquakes. Courtesy: University of Missouri

A team of engineers at the University of Missouri has designed a flexible material that can help buildings withstand multiple waves of energy traveling through a solid material, including the ground motions found in earthquakes.

Even though they are miles from the epicenter of an earthquake, buildings can collapse due to how an earthquake’s energy makes the ground shake and rattle. Now, a team of engineers led by Guoliang Huang, a James C. Dowell Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of Missouri College of Engineering, has designed a flexible material that can help buildings withstand multiple waves of energy traveling through a solid material, including the simultaneous forward and backward and side-to-side motions found in earthquakes.

“Our elastic material can stretch and form to a particular surface, similarly to a wrap on a vehicle,” Huang said. “It can be applied to the surface of an existing building to allow it to flex in an earthquake. What is unique about the structured lattice-type material is that it protects against both types of energy waves — longitudinal and sheer — that can travel through the ground.”

Huang said the material also can be used by the defense industry to protect against vibration in mechanical parts, such as aircraft or submarine engines.

“For over 20 years, no one had a natural solution for this issue in a solid material,” Huang said. “Now, we’ve designed, modeled and fabricated a new material with properties that do not exist naturally for what we believe is a nearly perfect protective device.”

The Army Research Office provided funding for the basic research effort at the University of Missouri associated with this project.

“The results that the University of Missouri team has recently published are encouraging,” said Dan Cole, the program manager at the Army Research Office, a part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. “This research could lead to new strategies for steering mechanical waves away from critical regions in solid objects, which could enable novel capabilities in soldier protection and maneuvering.”


Eric Stann
Author Bio: Eric Stann, research news strategist, University of Missouri.