Scientists Just Invented A New Shape, With Rubber Bands

24/04/2014 11:31 BST | Updated 24/04/2014 11:59 BST

Scientists have technically invented a new shape.

Using rubber bands.

The team at Harvard was attempting to make a new form of spring for an imaging project when they apparently stumbled on a weird form of "perverse" hemihelix.

A helix is a 3D shape like a corkscrew or a spring, and a hemihelix forms when the direction of the spiral changes along its length. The new form of hemihelix switches directions many more times, and is easy to make consistently.


At first the shape was just the result of an accident, formed when intertwining two hands of different lengths and widths. But after much study and experimentation - both by playing with rubber strips and using complex modelling computers - they were able to work out a consistent way to make one, and to establish its key properties.

The result is a paper published in PLOS One, and technically a new type of shape.

"Once you are able to fabricate these complex shapes and control them, the next step will be to see if they have unusual properties; for example, to look at their effect on the propagation of light," said Katia Bertoldi, Associate Professor in Applied Mechanics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

To make the shape in question you'd need to tie rubber bands to a freely rotating nylon string, then stretch them and connect the bottom to a weight. Different setups produced different, repeatable shapes.


It's not just idle play either - there are potential practical applications to being able to make these shapes consistently, such as in nano health devices or sensors.

"We see deterministic growth from a two-dimensional state—two strips bonded together—to a three-dimensional state," said Jia Liu, another member of the team.

"The actual number of perversions, the diameter, everything else about it is entirely prescribed. There is no randomness; it's fully deterministic. So if you make one hundred of these, they'll always perform exactly the same way."