Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Christian Santangelo

Subject Categories

Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Physics


Despite their initial success and impact on the development of the modern computer, mechanical computers were quickly replaced once electronic computers became viable. Recently, there has been increased interest in designing devices that compute using modern and unconventional materials. In this dissertation, we investigate multiple ways to realize a mechanical device that can compute, with a main focus on designing mechanical equivalents for wires and transistors. For our first approach at designing mechanical wires, we present results on the propagation of signals in a soft mechanical wire composed of bistable elements. When we send a signal along bistable wires that do not support infinite signal propagation, we find that signals can propagate for a finite distance controlled by a penetration length for perturbations. We map out various parameters for this to occur, and present results from experiments on wires made of soft elastomers. Our second approach for designing mechanical devices that compute focuses on designing the topology of the configuration space of a linkage. By programming the configuration space through small perturbations of the bar lengths in the linkage, we are able to design a linkage that gates the propagation of a soliton in a Kane-Lubensky chain. This dissertation also includes other results related to the study of small length changes in linkages and an analysis of a version of a mechanical transistor compatible with the soft bistable wires.


Open Access

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