Motivated by the desire to determine the simplest 3-D structure that could take advantage of mechanical instability to collapse reversibly, a group of engineers at MIT and Harvard University were stymied — until one of them happened across a collapsible, spherical toy that resembled the structures they'd been exploring, but with a complex layout of 26 solid moving elements and 48 rotating hinges.
The toy inspired the engineers to create the "buckliball," a hollow, spherical object made of soft rubber containing no moving parts, but fashioned with 24 carefully spaced dimples. When the air is sucked out of a buckliball with a syringe, the thin ligaments forming columns between lateral dimples collapse. This is the engineering equivalent of applying equal load on all beams in a structure simultaneously to induce buckling, a phenomenon first studied by mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1757.
When the buckliball's thin ligaments buckle, the thicker ligaments forming rows between dimples undergo a series of movements the researchers refer to as a "cooperative buckling cascade." Some of the thick ligaments rotate clockwise, others counterclockwise — but all move simultaneously and harmoniously, turning the original circular dimples into vertical and horizontal ellipses in alternating patterns before closing them entirely. As a result, the buckliball morphs into a rhombicuboctahedron about half the size (46 percent) of the original sphere.
The researchers named their new structure for its use of buckling and its resemblance to buckyballs, spherical all-carbon molecules whose name was inspired by the geodesic domes created by architect-inventor Buckminster Fuller. The buckliball is the first morphable structure to incorporate buckling as a desirable engineering design element. The buckling process induces folding in portions of the sphere — similar to the way paper folds in origami — so the researchers place their buckliball in a larger framework of buckling-induced origami they call "buckligami."
Read more at MIT News: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/buckliball-collapsible-structure-0326.html
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Video: MIT News; Buckliball footage courtesy Jongmin Shim, Katia Bertoldi and Pedro Reis