Thinner Conical Shells Weaker Than Expected, Cambridge and Colorado Researchers Find

Research conducted by the University of Cambridge and the University of Colorado Boulder (UC Boulder) has revealed that conical shells, particularly those made from thin materials, are weaker than initially anticipated. This finding, which was published in Physical Review Letters, could have significant implications for various industries, including electronics, robotics, civil engineering, and even programming languages.

The researchers were interested in exploring the load-bearing capacity of conical structures, a key factor in determining their potential applications. These structures are often used in the creation of lifting devices for robots, as well as in other mechanical and electronic applications. The team’s findings, however, challenge previously held assumptions about the strength and robustness of these conical shells.

As part of the study, the research team created thin conical shells using liquid crystal elastomer films. These were then subjected to various weights to test their strength and durability. The team discovered that the thinner the cone, the weaker it became, contradicting previous theoretical predictions made by physicists and engineers.

The team’s principal investigator, Daniel Duffy, explained that their research was initially aimed at understanding how to optimize the performance of thin sheets that morph into new shapes. The researchers were intrigued by a previous example by co-author Timothy White and his group, where a soft flat sheet morphed into a cone upon heating, lifting thousands of times its own weight in the process.

However, the team’s findings revealed that thin conical structures were surprisingly weak. They also developed a new mathematical formula to calculate the critical buckling load of a cone. This formula takes into account the thickness of the cone in a new way, providing a fresh perspective on how thin structures can be surprisingly weak.

This research opens up new avenues for understanding how conical structures behave under load, which is essential in fields such as electronics and robotics. For instance, in programming languages and coding, understanding the limits of physical structures can inform how software is developed to control these physical systems.

The researchers also highlighted the potential applications of their findings in the realm of soft robotics. They are keen to explore how their new understanding of the strength of conical shells can be used to optimize soft shape-morphing cones for lifting heavier weights. Additionally, they plan to delve deeper into the mechanics of the intricate curved ridges that developed on their buckled cones, which exhibited complex behaviors and could have potential applications in new soft-robotic devices.

In conclusion, this study challenges our understanding of the strength and robustness of conical structures, particularly those made from thin materials. The findings could have far-reaching implications for various industries, from electronics to robotics, civil engineering, and even programming languages. By providing a new formula for calculating the strength of a cone, this research offers a fresh perspective on the potential applications and limitations of conical structures.