Reversible signal transmission in an active mechanical metamaterial

AP Browning, FG Woodhouse, MJ Simpson

Proceedings of the Royal Society A (2019)

Mechanical metamaterials are designed to enable unique functionalities, but are typically limited by an initial energy state and require an independent energy input to function repeatedly. Our study introduces a theoretical active mechanical metamaterial that incorporates a biological reaction mechanism to overcome this key limitation of passive metamaterials. Our material allows for reversible mechanical signal transmission, where energy is reintroduced by the biologically motivated reaction mechanism. By analysing a coarse grained continuous analogue of the discrete model, we find that signals can be propagated through the material by a travelling wave. Analysis of the continuum model provides the region of the parameter space that allows signal transmission, and reveals similarities with the well-known FitzHugh-Nagumo system. We also find explicit formulae that approximate the effect of the timescale of the reaction mechanism on the signal transmission speed, which is essential for controlling the material.