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The University of Southampton

Research project: The science and engineering of shape-shifters

Currently Active: 

Tunable shape-shifting structures.

Morphing surface

At the micro- and nanoscale, the periodicity of patterned surfaces present very interesting properties such as unique microfluidic, optical, electronic or acoustic properties because of wave interference. In Nature, a number of animals and plants have evolved the ability to exploit patterned surfaces at various scales (e.g. Lotus flower, shark cuticles) to their advantages. Dynamic or adaptive patterned surfaces are very desirable as they can be adapted to specific contexts, operating conditions and environments. Cephalopods such as octopus, squid and cuttlefish possess some of the most striking abilities in the animal kingdom: camouflage via colour change and adaptive change of the three-dimensional texture of their skin. In a military context, these characteristics would be very attractive.

If one focuses on shape changes only, the natural question would be how does one design a skin that can dynamically change shape and, similar to octopuses, have its texture reversibly reconfigured into random or specified complex three-dimensional patterns?

This goal of this project is to provide a proof-of-concept to answer to this question.


We are working on the development of a robust computational modelling platform that will offer the ability to design and optimise patterned surfaces by using a clever combination of materials, structural layers, boundary and loading conditions. The idea is to use multi-layer structures (thin to thick films) and control their external three-dimensional surfaces by exploiting their buckling/wrinkling/folding characteristics. The ability to dynamically reconfigure the texture could be done by using electroactive or magnetostrictive materials.

Associated research themes

Bioengineering and human factors

Related research groups

national Centre for Advanced Tribology at Southampton (nCATS)
Bioengineering Science
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