Video of the Day: Morphable surfaces

This is not a giant pink mushroom. Or, well, I guess it is a giant pink mushroom. But it's also more than that, because it can dimple itself. I know, I know, why would you ever want a self-dimpling pink mushroom? Look, stop fixating on the mushroomyness for a sec, and let's focus more on the self-dimpling, because that's what's important here. If this reminds you a little bit of a golf ball, that's because golf balls also have dimples, and there's an excellent reason for it: dimples decrease air resistance.

Intuitively, it seems like a smooth surface would be more aerodynamic than a dimpled one, but that's not how air works, especially around things that aren't inherently aerodynamic. Air moving over surfaces causes drag, and that drag gets especially bad when air has to separate from that surface (say, off the back of a rapidly moving golf ball). This separation leads to turbulence, and turbulence is bad. Dimples help hold the airflow closer to the surface for longer, delaying the separation and minimizing the turbulence. Golf balls use this effect to fly up to three times farther, and cars get a benefit from it as well.

Anyway, back to our giant pink mushroom. MIT made this thing out of two layers of material, one flexible (on top) and one stiffer (inside). When air is pumped out of the inside of the 'schroom, the flexible layer gets sucked down onto the stiffer one, forming dimples. When the vacuum is released, it pops back to normal. Varying the pressure allows the size of the dimples to be adjusted, so that they can be optimized to reduce drag at different speeds, whether on a car or a fast-moving pink mushroom. It's coming, people. It's coming.

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