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The longitudinal and shear energy waves produced by earthquakes travel through the ground and can destroy buildings miles from the epicenter. Preventing that damage requires a solution that can withstand these multidirectional waves traveling through a solid material but that is also flexible.

A new metamaterial offers dual-use applications, helping buildings withstand the ground shockwaves from earthquakes as well as defense applications, including muffling engine vibrations, soldier protection, communications and sensing. 

A metamaterial is an artificially constructed material, usually a composite, engineered in patterns that give it unique properties often to do with the way it manipulates waves.

Dr Guoliang Huang, a James C. Dowell Professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering leads a team that has developed a lattice-type material that protects against both types of wave and is flexible enough to wrap around the objects it is protecting – a building or vehicles, for example.

The polar metamaterial was fabricated by 3D printing. According to, the US Army Research Office funds the research, which has clear defense applications, including protection against vibration in mechanical parts, such as aircraft or submarine engines, and flexible protection for soldiers and equipment against blast energy.

The polar metamaterial can also be used in communications, sensors and monitoring of a structure’s health through the use of information provided by sound and vibrations. The polar metamaterial can improve the performance of those aspects of the devices.