The mechanical properties of fabrics and textiles are usually fixed by their interlinked structures. Now Yifan Wang and colleagues have devised a structured fabric that does not conform to these expectations: it can be simply and reversibly tuned between a soft, bendable state and one that is rigid. The basis of their idea is to construct the fabric by linking hollow polyhedral particles, to yield a planar structure resembling chain mail. In its native state, the resulting fabric is flexible and can be draped over all manner of complex objects. But when it is compressed, its linked particles obstruct each other’s ability to move, becoming jammed in position, and the fabric becomes rigid. The authors suggest that such a tunable combination of properties could find use in a variety of robotic and medical applications.
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