An international research team has discovered that zinc dicyanoaurate has an atomic structure very similar to that of octopus arms.
Unlike most other materials, this compound does not shrink under pressure due to its negative linear compressibility (NLC).
“When pressure is applied all around NLC materials, instead of their dimensions getting shorter, they reduce their volume by getting longer,” explained study co-author Andrew Goodwin at the U.K.’s University of Oxford, according to a blog on the institution’s website.
The material’s honeycomb structure confers very strong NLC properties, with potential applications such as artificial muscles, adjustable lenses or sensors, and as a cement component to prevent cracking in construction.
“It was quite surprising to discover that zinc dicyanoaurate is made up of structures that act rather like sets of supramolecular springs that cause it to behave in this way,” Andrew continued. “What’s particularly exciting is that these properties scale up from the atomic scale to that of man-made objects and structures, suggesting all sorts of possible applications.”
Similarly, the octopus relies on such physics to use its tentacles.
“When it wants to contract a particular limb, an octopus squirts liquid into the center of a helical chamber inside the tentacle,” Goodwin added.
“This creates the equivalent of negative pressure on the tentacle, causing it to get fatter in cross section and, through the muscle architecture, contract in length.”
The results were published online in Nature Materials on Jan. 20.
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