MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab focusing on programmable and kinetic materials, is testing out new heat responsive auxetics (materials that respond to all directions of a pulling force) that could help create smarter materials. Called "heat-active auxetic materials," they "are made of a composite consisting of multiple materials, each with different thermal expansion properties," says Athina Papadopoulou, one of the researchers and a doctoral candidate in design computation at MIT. "When the composite is exposed to heat, one of the materials expands significantly, whereas the others only expand minimally." This reaction to a change in temperature could lead to the creation of objects that are easier to customize for temperature control—tightening to protect from the cold, loosening to provide ventilation in the heat.
This heat-active technology allows for materials to respond to external factors and adapt accordingly—a property that would be especially helpful in clothing, packaging materials, and even crash-protection equipment. Strategically placing 3D lattice structures capable of expanding and shrinking into industrial or commercial products would give them a higher performance and durability for extreme environmental conditions.
The project research team includes Papadopoulou; the co-directors and founders of the Self Assembly Lab, Jared Laucks and Skylar Tibbits; Hannah Lienhard, a mechanical engineering student; and Schendy Kernizan, a project manager at the Self-Assembly Lab.