Five lollies

A tasty way to learn more about metamaterials!

Lolly metamaterials

Follow these instructions to learn about metamaterials and the amazing properties they gain from their unusual structures.

  • 1 November 2012 | Updated 2 November 2012

You will need

  • toothpicks
  • jubes
  • magazines or books

What to do

  1. You will be creating two lolly shapes. The easier of the two shapes is a cube. Do this by lining up nine jubes in a square where there are three rows of three lollies. Then, connect them into a grid using 12 toothpicks. Make three sets of these grids. Then, connect them into a cube by using 18 more toothpicks.
  2. The second structure uses triangles. Line up eight jubes so there is a row of three, then a staggered row of two, then another row of three in line with the first row. Use 13 toothpicks to connect the rows of jubes into six triangles. Make three sets of these. Then, connect them into a shape using 16 more toothpicks.
  3. Use magazines or books to test the strength of each shape.

What’s happening?

This activity is designed to get you thinking about metamaterials. Metamaterials are artificial structures that gain properties from their structure, not just what they are made from. They have properties beyond those found in naturally occurring materials.

The two shapes that you made in this activity are not equally strong. Even though they are both made out of similar numbers of lollies and toothpicks, the structure is important in determining how much weight each shape can hold.

You probably found that the cube does not hold as much weight as the triangle-based shape. The triangles give the second shape extra strength.

Like a metamaterial, your artificial shapes had properties that resulted from their structure – the arrangement of big things (lollies and toothpicks) instead of just the small things (atoms and molecules).

Applications

In theory, the use of metamaterials could make an object appear invisible. To see an object, the object must reflect or refract light waves that are then detected by your eyes. Metamaterials have the potential to guide light waves around an object rather than deflect them away or absorb them. In this case, you would perceive the light waves as if the object wasn’t there at all – it would be invisible!

So far, scientists from Duke University have arranged copper lines and fibreglass sheets into a metamaterial that can mostly hide a metal cylinder from microwave detection.

Microwaves are a type of electromagnetic radiation, just like visible light. To get this technology to work for visible light, scientists are currently working on structures for metamaterials at the nanoscale.

By Jasmine Leong

This activity was featured in Science by Email