The Leidenfrost effect occurs when an object near a hot surface vaporizes rapidly enough to lift itself up and hover1, 2. Although well understood for liquids1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and stiff sublimable solids15, 16, 17, 18, nothing is known about the effect with materials whose stiffness lies between these extremes. Here we introduce a new phenomenon that occurs with vaporizable soft solids—the elastic Leidenfrost effect. By dropping hydrogel spheres onto hot surfaces we find that, rather than hovering, they energetically bounce several times their diameter for minutes at a time. With high-speed video during a single impact, we uncover high-frequency microscopic gap dynamics at the sphere/substrate interface. We show how these otherwise-hidden agitations constitute work cycles that harvest mechanical energy from the vapour and sustain the bouncing. Our findings suggest a new strategy for injecting mechanical energy into a widely used class of soft materials, with potential relevance to fields such as active matter, soft robotics and microfluidics.

Nature Phys.
Mechanical Metamaterials

Waitukaitis, S., Zuiderwijk, A., Souslov, A., Coulais, C., & van Hecke, M. (2017). Coupling the Leidenfrost effect and elastic deformations to power sustained bouncing. Nature Phys., 13, 1095–1099. doi:10.1038/nphys4194