Beaded metamaterials


From the pragmatic to the symbolic, textiles play a prominent role in some of the most demanding yet ubiquitous scenarios, such as covering the complex and dynamic geometries of the human body. Textiles are made by repeated manipulations of slender fibers into structures with emergent properties. Today, these ancient metamaterials are being examined in a new light, propelled by the idea that their geometric structures can be leveraged to engineer functional soft materials. However, per their inherent softness, textiles and other compliant materials cannot typically withstand compressive forces. This limitation hinders the transfer of soft matters rich shape-morphing capabilities to broader research areas that require load-bearing capabilities. Here we introduce \textit{beading} as a versatile platform that links centuries of human ingenuity encoded in the world of textiles with the current demand for smart, programmable materials. By incorporating discrete rigid units, i.e. \textit{beads}, into various fiber-based assemblies, beadwork adds tunable stiffness to otherwise flaccid fabrics, creating new opportunities for textiles to become load-bearing. We select a shell-like bead design as a model experimental system and thoroughly describe how its mechanics are captured by friction, the material properties of the constituent elements, and geometry. The fundamental characterization in this study demonstrates the range of complex behaviors possible with this class of material, inspiring the application of soft matter principles to fields that ultimately demand rigidity, such as robotics and architecture.