Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


How Things Coil


Researchers discover that simulation technology designed for Hollywood can be used as a predictive tool for understanding fundamental engineering problems

When one sends an email from Boston to Beijing, it travels through submarine optical cables that someone had to install at some point. The positioning of these cables can generate intriguing coiling patterns that can also cause problems if, for instance, they are tangled or kinked.

Image courtesy Eitan Grinspun/Columbia Engineering

Discrete elastic rods, used for hair simulation here, are also being used to predict the coiling of undersea communication cables.

The deployment of a rodlike structure onto a moving substrate is commonly found in a variety of engineering applications, from the fabrication of nanotube serpentines to the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and engineers for years have been interested in predicting the mechanics of filamentary structures and the coiling process.

A team led by Eitan Grinspun, associate professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering, and Pedro Reis, associate professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT, has been collaborating on a project that, in exploring these issues, bridges engineering mechanics (Reis’s group) and computer graphics (Grinspun’s group).

The researchers combined precision model experiments with computer simulations and examined the mechanics of coiling, discovering in particular that the natural curvature of the rod dramatically affects the coiling process. Their study is published in the September 29 Early Online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“This was a fun, fruitful collaboration,” says Grinspun. “We did something totally new and different: we took a computer algorithm that we had designed for Hollywood, and, by teaming up with Reis’s group, discovered that this same algorithm served as a predictive tool for engineering mechanics of thin filaments, rods, and pipes. It’s exciting to think that this computer model can serve both creative and engineering enterprises.”

Grinspun’s simulation technology, Discrete Elastic Rods, was originally developed to animate hair and fur in film and graphics applications, licensed and used in Photoshop for realistic paintbrushes, and by Weta Digital for use in films such as The Hobbit and Planet of the Apes series.

Reis, who is an experimental mechanician at MIT, was studying how buckling of thin elastic structures can be turned on its head: buckling is normally feared by engineers as a potential failure of a design, but what if it could be used as a functional component of a design? The two researchers decided to investigate how cables are deployed, both at the nanoscale, in stretchable electronics, and the macroscale, such as the deployment of internet communication cables on the ocean floor.

“This has been a wonderful example of two seemingly unrelated fields coming together to address a practical problem to introducing powerful and novel computational tools that were not previously available in our engineering community,” Reis notes.

The collaboration between Grinspun and Reis began when Reis invited Grinspun to visit his lab at MIT. “We wondered if our seemingly distant worlds could be bridged by a common vision,” says Grinspun. “We both wanted to understand how physical objects move by looking at how their geometry, or shape, affects their motion. Cables, being long and slender, were ideal candidates for study. But could the technology we built at Columbia Engineering for visually striking film and special effects be sufficiently accurate to agree with Reis’s hard and precise experimental data?”

With support from the National Science Foundation, Reis and Grinspun recruited doctoral students Khalid Jawed (MIT) and Fang Da (Columbia Engineering) to study cable deployment in detail. In their PNAS article, the researchers describe how seemingly benign decisions, such as the diameter of a spool, or the speed at which a cable is deployed, can dramatically affect the way that the cable lies on the ground.

They created a map of the different patterns that can arise, from a wiggling meandering mode to steady coiling and on to alternating loops, as the spool diameter or deployment speed are varied. The researchers also identified factors that have relatively little impact on the deployment, among them the height from which a cable is dropped.

“These findings have practical impacts on our everyday lives,” Reis adds. “Take, for instance, an email that travels along a transoceanic communication cable. By better understanding the variables that impact the deployment of such cables, we can better balance considerations such as expense (the length of the cable deployed, the amount of time to deploy the cable), signal quality (tangled cables can be more prone to interference), and the resilience of the connection (taut cables are more prone to damage due to external factors, such as seismic activity.”

“Translating computer tools from computers and validating them against precision model experiments has provided a novel tool for engineering mechanics to tackle the design and analysis of other rodlike structures, which are common in nature and technology,” Reis continues.

“As we move to the next stage, we would like to pursue engineering problems that combine the mechanics of slender filaments with additional ingredients, such as drag, contact, and friction,” adds Grinspun. “We are looking, for example, at locomotion of bacteria, tying of shoelaces, and hair blowing in the wind.”

This work is funded by a National Science Foundation MoM-IDR Collaborative grant under CMMI (1129894).

Contact Information

Holly Evarts
Director of Strategic Communications and Media Rel
Phone: 212-854-3206
Mobile: 347-453-7408

Holly Evarts | newswise

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht 'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
18.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Engineers reveal fabrication process for revolutionary transparent sensors
14.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>