Engineers from Brown University have mapped out the amounts of compression required to cause wrinkles, creases, and folds to form in rubbery materials. The findings could help engineers control the formation of these structures, which can be useful in designing nanostructured materials for flexible electronic devices or surfaces that require variable adhesion.

While most of us might use the terms wrinkle, crease, and fold almost interchangeably, engineers recognize distinct properties in each of those states. As defined by the Brown researchers, the wrinkle state is when peaks and troughs start to form on the surface, like waves on the ocean. The crease state is when a distinctly sharp groove is formed on the surface. A fold occurs when the areas on either side of the wrinkle trough begin to touch, forming hollow channels beneath the surface plane of the material.

The researchers refer to these states collectively as “ruga” states, a term originating from Latin and often used in anatomy to describe wrinkle formations in the body such as on the stomach or the roof of the mouth.

Each ruga state could have different implications in a design setting. In a flexible circuit board, for example, wrinkles might be acceptable but creases or folds could cause short circuits. Engineers might use creases or folds to control the adhesive properties of a surface. These structures can hide the area of a sticky surface in troughs, making it less likely to stick. Stretching the surface brings the stickiness back. Folds could be useful in trapping large molecules or nanoparticles and in transporting fluids.

The idea behind this latest research is to understand at what points each ruga state forms, helping engineers to better utilize them. To do that, the researchers used a mathematical model that simulates the deformation characteristics of a layered rubbery material with its elastic property varying with depth from the surface. The result was a phase diagram that pinpoints the precise amounts of compression required to form each ruga state.

Beyond material science, Kim says the work will help scientists “to fathom natural processes observed in broad scales from mountain folds to skin creases and folds of micro organs in biology.”

This story is reprinted from material from Brown University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.