Designing dynamic metamaterials that imitate nature’s strategies

FET project Boheme will introduce metamaterials that resemble spider webs and woodpeckers, which will help us fix some unresolved issues on transportation, health, and energy


Metamaterials possess a unique set of properties that were recently thought to go beyond what nature has to offer. Depending on their design, they can manipulate the way light, electromagnetic radiation or sound propagates.


The researchers of the EU-Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme-funded project BOHEME, rather than first fabricating metamaterials and then deciphering their properties, took a step back and studied the way specific natural structures function. They began screening biological systems that had certain peculiar characteristics such as hierarchical organisation, dynamic or optical behaviour that are non-trivial (such as woodpeckers, chameleons and sea urchins). Their vibrational behaviour with respect to elastic wave excitation was studied in the process. Having gained further insight on the effects of these structures on wave propagation, the researchers started designing their bioinspired metamaterials.


“The idea of starting with natural structures is a way to help in this quest because they have been optimised by millions of years of evolution and have been created to fulfil a certain goal,” says Federico Bosia from the Polytechnic University of Turin (Italy), one of the partners of the project.


“From a dynamical point of view, these complex architectures may be used as a kind of system to tune vibrations at different frequencies,” explains Marco Miniaci from CNRS (France), another partner of Boheme. “So this means, for example, the number and type of rings in a spider’s web determine which vibrations may, or may not propagate, and be sensed by the spider.”


Possible applications include: detecting and mitigating unwanted vibrations present in airplanes and train tracks, reducing noises during an MRI, harvesting energy from ocean waves.


In less than a year, BOHEME, which is being coordinated by Nicola M. Pugno from the University of Trento (Italy), has provided many insights on how much nature can teach us when building dynamic metamaterials.


Moreover, two of its industrial partners will be leading two newly accepted FET Innovation LaunchpadsSILENCE and BioMetaRail – that will assess the exploitability of two applications mentioned above. One of their next challenges will be to understand how they can bring their knowledge from the lab to the real world.


Background information

FET-Open and FET Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Pilot (specifically the Pathfinder), the new home for deep-tech research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation.


Cover photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash