Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Morphable surfaces cut air resistance: Golf ball-like dimples on cars may improve fuel efficiency

Date:
June 24, 2014
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Testing over the years has proved that a golf ball’s irregular surface dramatically increases the distance it travels, because it can cut the drag caused by air resistance in half. Now researchers are aiming to harness that same effect to reduce drag on a variety of surfaces -- including domes that sometimes crumple in high winds, or perhaps even vehicles.

Researchers made this sphere to test their concept of morphable surfaces. Made of soft polymer with a hollow center, and a thin coating of a stiffer polymer, the sphere becomes dimpled when the air is pumped out of the hollow center, causing it to shrink.
Credit: Photo courtesy of the researchers

There is a story about how the modern golf ball, with its dimpled surface, came to be: In the mid-1800s, it is said, new golf balls were smooth, but became dimpled over time as impacts left permanent dents. Smooth new balls were typically used for tournament play, but in one match, a player ran short, had to use an old, dented one, and realized that he could drive this dimpled ball much further than a smooth one.

Whether that story is true or not, testing over the years has proved that a golf ball's irregular surface really does dramatically increase the distance it travels, because it can cut the drag caused by air resistance in half. Now researchers at MIT are aiming to harness that same effect to reduce drag on a variety of surfaces -- including domes that sometimes crumple in high winds, or perhaps even vehicles.

Detailed studies of aerodynamics have shown that while a ball with a dimpled surface has half the drag of a smooth one at lower speeds, at higher speeds that advantage reverses. So the ideal would be a surface whose smoothness can be altered, literally, on the fly -- and that's what the MIT team has developed.

The new work is described in a paper in the journal Advanced Materials by MIT's Pedro Reis and former MIT postdocs Denis Terwagne (now at the Universitι Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium) and Miha Brojan (now at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia).

Shrinking leads to wrinkling

The ability to change the surface in real time comes from the use of a multilayer material with a stiff skin and a soft interior -- the same basic configuration that causes smooth plums to dry into wrinkly prunes. To mimic that process, Reis and his team made a hollow ball of soft material with a stiff skin -- with both layers made of rubberlike materials -- then extracted air from the hollow interior to make the ball shrink and its surface wrinkle.

"Numerous studies of wrinkling have been done on flat surfaces," says Reis, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering. "Less is known about what happens when you curve the surface. How does that affect the whole wrinkling process?"

The answer, it turns out, is that at a certain degree of shrinkage, the surface can produce a dimpled pattern that's very similar to that of a golf ball -- and with the same aerodynamic properties.

The aerodynamic properties of dimpled balls can be a bit counterintuitive: One might expect that a ball with a smooth surface would sail through the air more easily than one with an irregular surface. The reason for the opposite result has to do with the nature of a small layer of the air next to the surface of the ball. The irregular surface, it turns out, holds the airflow close to the ball's surface longer, delaying the separation of this boundary layer. This reduces the size of the wake -- the zone of turbulence behind the ball -- which is the primary cause of drag for blunt objects.

When the researchers saw the wrinkled outcomes of their initial tests with their multilayer spheres, "We realized that these samples look just like golf balls," Reis says. "We systematically tested them in a wind tunnel, and we saw a reduction in drag very similar to that of golf balls."

Now you see it, now you don't

Because the surface texture can be controlled by adjusting the balls' interior pressure, the degree of drag reduction can be controlled at will. "We can generate that surface topography, or erase it," Reis says. "That reversibility is why this is pretty interesting; you can switch the drag-reducing effect on and off, and tune it."

As a result of that variability, the team refers to these as "smart morphable surfaces" -- or "smorphs," for short. The pun is intentional, Reis says: The paper's lead author -- Terwagne, a Belgian comics fan -- pointed out that one characteristic of Smurfs cartoon characters is that no matter how old they get, they never develop wrinkles.

Terwagne says that making the morphable surfaces for lab testing required a great deal of trial-and-error -- work that ultimately yielded a simple and efficient fabrication process. "This beautiful simplicity to achieve a complex functionality is often used by nature," he says, "and really inspired me to investigate further."

Many researchers have studied various kinds of wrinkled surfaces, with possible applications in areas such as adhesion, or even unusual optical properties. "But we are the first to use wrinkling for aerodynamic properties," Reis says.

The drag reduction of a textured surface has already expanded beyond golf balls: The soccer ball being used at this year's World Cup, for example, uses a similar effect; so do some track suits worn by competitive runners. For many purposes, such as in golf and soccer, constant dimpling is adequate, Reis says.

But in other uses, the ability to alter a surface could prove useful: For example, many radar antennas are housed in spherical domes, which can collapse catastrophically in very high winds. A dome that could alter its surface to reduce drag when strong winds are expected might avert such failures, Reis suggests. Another application could be the exterior of automobiles, where the ability to adjust the texture of panels to minimize drag at different speeds could increase fuel efficiency, he says.

John Rogers, a professor of materials research and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who was not involved in this work, says, "It represents a delightful example of how controlled processes of mechanical buckling can be used to create three-dimensional structures with interesting aerodynamic properties. The type of dynamic tuning of sophisticated surface morphologies made possible by this approach would be difficult or impossible to achieve in any other way."

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_86mIMPbcDg

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, MIT's Charles E. Reed Faculty Initiatives Fund, the Wallonie-Bruxelles International, the Belgian American Education Foundation, and the Fulbright Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by David L. Chandler. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Denis Terwagne, Miha Brojan, Pedro M. Reis. Smart Morphable Surfaces for Aerodynamic Drag Control. Advanced Materials, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/adma.201401403

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Morphable surfaces cut air resistance: Golf ball-like dimples on cars may improve fuel efficiency." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140624110718.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2014, June 24). Morphable surfaces cut air resistance: Golf ball-like dimples on cars may improve fuel efficiency. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140624110718.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Morphable surfaces cut air resistance: Golf ball-like dimples on cars may improve fuel efficiency." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140624110718.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Government Approves East Coast Oil Exploration

Government Approves East Coast Oil Exploration

AP (July 18, 2014) — The Obama administration approved the use of sonic cannons to discover deposits under the ocean floor by shooting sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine through waters shared by endangered whales and turtles. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sunken German U-Boat Clearly Visible For First Time

Sunken German U-Boat Clearly Visible For First Time

Newsy (July 18, 2014) — The wreckage of the German submarine U-166 has become clearly visible for the first time since it was discovered in 2001. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: U.S. Must Have "smartest Airports, Best Power Grid"

Obama: U.S. Must Have "smartest Airports, Best Power Grid"

Reuters - US Online Video (July 17, 2014) — President Barak Obama stopped by at a lunch counter in Delaware before making remarks about boosting the nation's infrastructure. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Crude Oil Prices Bounce Back After Falling Below $100 a Barrel

Crude Oil Prices Bounce Back After Falling Below $100 a Barrel

TheStreet (July 16, 2014) — Oil Futures are bouncing back after tumbling below $100 a barrel for the first time since May yesterday. Jeff Grossman is the president of BRG Brokerage and trades at the NYMEX. Grossman tells TheStreet the Middle East is always a concern for oil traders. Oil prices were pushed down in recent weeks on Libya increasing its production. Supply disruptions in Iraq fading also contributed to prices falling. News from China's economic front showing a growth for the second quarter also calmed fears on its slowdown. Jeff Grossman talks to TheStreet's Susannah Lee on this and more on the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) report. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins