Academic Profiles

Norman Fleck
Professor of Mechanics & Materials

Norman FleckProfessor Fleck is Director of the Cambridge Centre for Micromechanics.

He teaches courses on:

  • 4th year Deformation and Fracture
  • 4th year Designing with Composites

Recent research in Professor Fleck's area has led to the development of a radical new type of material for producing stiff lightweight structures. The so-called 'Lattice Materials' are built up on the principles of triangulation, more commonly encountered in Civil Engineering. "The notion is to move away from material that is used only for its mechanical properties, and to start looking for multi-functional properties instead," explains Norman Fleck.

Produced by injection moulding and investment casting, the new materials look like miniaturised structural steel trellises more normally seen on a large scale for producing bridges or steel frame buildings. Their geometries are based on the crystal structures found in metals and rocks.

Such materials can be produced in sandwich panel form and have potential applications in areas where light weight combined with high stiffness are a requirement, such as in the flooring of aircraft.

Other applications envisaged will make use of the potentially good heat transfer characteristics of these materials for heat exchangers and for cooling electronic components.

Such panels could also be designed to be multi-functional, with the outer layers of a sandwich panel construction consisting of say a solar cell or an electronic membrane. Distributed transistors within the material could be addressed individually to switch shape memory or pneumatic actuators on or off, producing contractions mimicking those of muscles.

At present these materials are being manufactured from aluminium, but they could be made from Ni-based alloys, steels or ceramics. The work is being carried out in conjunction with other universities: Harvard, MIT, Princeton and the University of Virginia.

Professor Fleck has begun a research activity in the mechanics of biological systems. This includes the mechanical properties of skin, the operation of molecular motors and the actuation of muscles in organs such as the heart.

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