Building Patterns Inside Materials for Improved Properties
They say you cannot judge a book by its cover, and that is just as true with materials as it is with literature. A material's surface definitely has an important influence on how it interacts with other materials, but materials can interact with more than external materials. Researchers at MIT are investigating how patterning the interfaces within materials can be used to shape their properties.
Traditionally materials have been considered as having an external surface and an interior bulk, but treating the bulk as containing its own surfaces, or interfaces, is a novel idea. To do this the researchers had to adapt equations for determining surface properties to describe how a surface can vary at different locations. Such work is difficult to do experimentally, but computer simulations are capable of it.
By controlling the within a material, the researchers envision the possibility of building altering a material's strength as well as building in useful features. One example would be properties to control the flow of heat and sound through a material, which would impact thermoelectrics, and another would be putting channels inside of shielding meant for nuclear fusion reactors, so that helium atoms could escape, rather than damage the shielding.