Ground-breaking research work by Professor Joseph N. Grima and co-workers Daphne Attard, Ruben Gatt, and Richard N. Cassar from the Department of Chemistry of the University of Malta, and funded by MCST, the Malta Council for Science and Technology, has been featured on the front cover of the July 2009 issue of  the prestigious journal Advanced Engineering Materials.

This journal is the membership journal of three major European materials’ societies: the German Materials Society (DGM), the French Materials Society (SF2M) and the Swiss Materials Federation (SVMT). It enjoys high standing within the international scientific community and is widely considered as a premier source for new developments in the field of materials engineering and processing technology.

The Maltese researchers have developed a new route for the manufacturing of high value-added auxetic foams from ordinary, cheaply available, conventional foam. These auxetic foams exhibit the unusual property of getting fatter when stretched rather than thinner.

This discovery represents a first from various aspects: To date there has been only one known method (developed in the USA) which can be used to produce such foams and having an alternative manufacturing method can offer various advantages. For example, this new route which does not require much monitoring and possibly offers a cheaper and simpler way to produce auxetic foams and may therefore be more viable on an industrial scale. Also, the manufacturing process is fully reversible and auxetic foams produced through this method can be re-converted back to their original form, something which had never been attempted before.

Auxetic foams, such as the one developed by the University of Malta team, have various superior beneficial properties when compared to ordinary foams. For example, they are harder to indent on impact, providing extra support during sudden collisions. This makes them especially suitable to use in car seats and protective equipment such as knee, elbow pads, crash helmets etc. as well as for packaging purposes. They also show a natural tendency to adopt a dome shape conformation allowing them to fit to curvatures in a more versatile way. Thus auxetic foams used for protective purposes are not only better than conventional ones in terms of comfort, but more importantly, in terms of the added protection they can offer but even. “Such added protection could make the difference between life and death should one be involved in a traffic accident” says Professor Grima. “Anyone who has been involved in automotive or motorcycle accidents will easily appreciate the need for materials such as ours which can help minimise the trauma that results following sudden impacts.” Applications of auxetic foams also extend to tunable filters the pore size of which can be increased simply by stretching the foam, providing a way to control filtration processes for the separation of different sized particles, using a single filter.

Professor Richard Muscat, a neuroscientist and University of Malta Pro-Rector for Research and Innovation has little doubt on the potential applications of auxetic foams such as the ones developed by the Malta team. “Materials such as these that provide better  protection against brain injury is certainly a major step forward with regard to increasing the safety of drivers and passengers on our roads. We are pleased that despite our limited resources, our University academics and students are able to conduct world-class research in niche areas of science, medicine and engineering thus putting us on the international map of research and innovation.”

University of Malta Rector, Professor Juanito Camilleri commented, "The research being conducted by Prof. Grima's team is outstanding and ought to be followed through with further funding to allow the University and its industry partners to seek concrete ways of exploiting these materials in commercial applications. The Malta Council for Science and
Technology must continue to support such RTDI (Research, Technological Development and Innovation) projects which facilitate University collaboration with Industry. Time and again we have demonstrated that excellence can be achieved by our researchers, and in this day and age, research and innovation have become synonymous with economic prosperity. Investment in RTDI projects is investment in tomorrow's economic prosperity."

This work was made possible through a research grant awarded to the University of Malta and Methode Electronics (Malta) Ltd. by MCST through their National Research, Technological Development and Innovation (RTDI) programme, and through a Malta Government Scholarship awarded to Daphne Attard. Other scientists and engineers working on this project include Brian Ellul, Elaine Manicaro and Elaine Chetcuti from the University of Malta together with Tristan Debono and Ing. Alexander Galea from Methode Electronics (Malta) Ltd.

“The pristine work Prof. Grima and his team are doing on auxetic foams is an excellent example of the potential of Maltese researchers” says Dr. Nicholas J. Sammut, Chairman of MCST. “The project, emphasises on new manufacturing methods for the production of this high value added product and hence may eventually become a niche technology that is researched, developed and made in Malta.”

Further Information:

See also...
001-auxetic-definition.jpg ----- Definition of Auxetic Materials = materials which get fatter when stretched as opposed to conventional materials which get thinner when stretched

002-aux-foam-animation.gif ----- An animation showing the newly developed auxetic foam. Note that this foam gets fatter when stretched as opposed to normal foams which get thinner.

003-front-cover-journal.gif ----- The front cover of Advanced Engineering Materials, July 2009 featuring our work.

004-foams-ppt-presentation.ppt ----- A PPT presentation on foams.

011-applic-auxetic-doming-effect.avi  ----- An animation showing that auxetic materials can easily form domes as opposed to conventional materials which cannot.

012-applic-auxetic-smart-bandage.jpg ----- Applications of auxetics in medicine: Shown here is a smart bandage made from an auxetic material which can release medication in a controlled manner.

013-applic-auxetic-smart-filter.jpg ----- Applications of auxetics in filtration applications: Shown here is a smart filter where one can control the pore size.

014-applic-indentation-auxetics.jpg ----- Applications of auxetics in seats which can resist indentation.

015-applic-doming-helmets.jpg ----- Auxetic foams which exhibit better impact absorbtion properties can also easily form dome-shaped surfaces thus being ideal for use for lining of crash helmets which can offer enhanced protection to the idividuals wearing them. Shown here is a model of the foams which shows this doming effect.

021-group.jpg ----- Members of the Research Group meeting with the Hon. Prime Minister, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi (Wed, 28th July 2009).