SEP 28, 2016 11:05 AM PDT

This Material Can Change Shape on Its Own - Programmable Shape Shifting

WRITTEN BY: Jennifer Ellis
Hearing the word ‘shapeshifting’ might bring back memories of Terminator 2, where the upgraded robot assassin hunting Arnold Schwarzenegger can become anyone he touches or transform from solid to liquid to squeeze through tight spaces.
Transformable liquid metal, reminiscent of the Terminator (Image credit: Shelley Brunt, Flickr)
Bringing us back to reality, shape shifting materials are an idea of the future and have been studied by material science labs across the world. These materials have the potential for a wide array of interesting and important jobs in medical and space applications. Shape shifting materials could be used to build intricate parts that are typically difficult to machine or mold, or developed to react to a specific stimuli to release a drug therapy.

However, all shape shifting materials to date have to have an external trigger to change forms. All are reliant on stimuli to react, such as temperature, pH, light, chemicals, or sound. For example, earlier this year, researchers at Washington State University created a material that can both assemble and disassemble itself when exposed to heat or light. Without that external trigger, the material remains in its initial form.

A team at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led by Chemistry Professor Sergei S. Sheiko, pondered the limitations surrounding shape shifting using external triggers. In a closed system, these external stimuli cannot be applied, so the applications of the materials become limited. They challenged themselves to investigate the possibility of self-regulated shape shifting and have now developed the first pre-programmable shape shifting material.

The study, published in Nature Communications, describes the making of a new material and how it can be programmed to transform at specific times, from hours to seconds. In order to create a shape-memory material, the team used two types of chemical bonds to create a stressed structure and a timed release of the bonds within that structure to reform and create a new stress-free structure.

Designing what is called a dual network hydrogel, they employed dynamic chemical bonds and permanent chemical bonds. The dynamic chemical bonds create a built in energy storage, similar to a spring in a mechanical watch, made up of chemical crosslinks. The permanent bonds allow for controlled energy release and drive the final state of the material, analogous to the gears of the watch. The stored energy initiates the transformation where timing can be programmed by adjusting bond parameters such as location, strength, and number.

The team created a video, included below, to demonstrate how the shape shifting material can be programmed. In this case, a flower is shown opening, one set of petals at a time, just as a real flower would bloom. With no external stimuli to cause the reactions and the ability to program the timing of the reactions, this development can have far reaching applications for drug delivery in the body, and shows great potential in biomedical engineering supporting minimally invasive surgical procedures.
 

(Blooming of an artificial flower, assembled from individually programmed petals. Credit: Sheiko et al. Nature Communications)

Sources: Phys.org, Nature Communications, NewsAtlas, WSJ
About the Author
  • I love all things science and am passionate about bringing science to the public through writing. With an M.S. in Genetics and experience in cancer research, marketing and technical writing, it is a pleasure to share the latest trends and findings in science on LabRoots.
You May Also Like
SEP 18, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Molecule take images of itself with its own electrons
SEP 18, 2020
Molecule take images of itself with its own electrons
A new study published in Physical Review Letters highlights the development of an approach to observe time-dependent cha ...
SEP 30, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Re-engineering elastomers
SEP 30, 2020
Re-engineering elastomers
A study entitled "Chelation Crosslinking of Biodegradable Elastomers," highlights the development of a framewo ...
NOV 06, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The Most Powerful X-ray Source On Earth
NOV 06, 2020
The Most Powerful X-ray Source On Earth
Located inside the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Z Pulsed Power Facility (or Z Machine) i ...
NOV 20, 2020
Space & Astronomy
The Universe is Getting Hotter, not Cooler, as it Expands
NOV 20, 2020
The Universe is Getting Hotter, not Cooler, as it Expands
Up until now, scientists have theorized that as the Universe expands, its temperature has gradually declined. New resear ...
NOV 22, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
New material removes copper ions from wastewater
NOV 22, 2020
New material removes copper ions from wastewater
A promising solution relies on materials that capture heavy metal atoms, such as copper ions, from wastewater through a ...
NOV 24, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
How long does COVID-19 stay on surfaces?
NOV 24, 2020
How long does COVID-19 stay on surfaces?
New research published today in Physics of Fluids explores the drying times of COVID-19 on different think liquid film s ...
Loading Comments...