The properties of foams and lattices

Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2006 Jan 15;364(1838):15-30. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2005.1678.


Man and nature both exploit the remarkable properties of cellular solids, by which we mean foams, meshes and microlattices. To the non-scientist, their image is that of soft, compliant, things: cushions, packaging and padding. To the food scientist they are familiar as bread, cake and desserts of the best kind: meringue, mousse and sponge. To those who study nature they are the structural materials of their subject: wood, coral, cancellous bone. And to the engineer they are of vast importance in building lightweight structures, for energy management, for thermal insulation, filtration and much more. When a solid is converted into a material with a foam-like structure, the single-valued properties of the solid are extended. By properties we mean stiffness, strength, thermal conductivity and diffusivity, electrical resistivity and so forth. And the extension is vast-the properties can be changed by a factor of 1000 or more. Perhaps the most important concept in analysing the mechanical behaviour is that of the distinction between a stretch- and a bending-dominated structure. The first is exceptionally stiff and strong for a given mass; the second is compliant and, although not strong, it absorbs energy well when compressed. This paper summarizes a little of the way in which the mechanical properties of cellular solids are analysed and illustrates the range of properties offered by alternative configurations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Elasticity
  • Gases / chemistry*
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure*
  • Polymers / chemistry*
  • Porosity
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Gases
  • Polymers