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05th Oct 2022

Scientists discover shape-shifting material that could transform robotics

April Curtin

Scientists think the potential could be huge

A new kind of shape-shifting memory material has been discovered by scientists, who believe it could revolutionise robotics.

The team of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology used “all the modern tools of science” to create the “smart material” – using a special type of cream which can endure extreme temperatures, as well as lots of damage.

Shape-memory materials have all been made of metal thus far, and their inability to handle high temperatures has made them difficult to use.

But when this bad boy material is triggered – whether it be by temperature, mechanical stress, electric or magnetic fields – it can change its shape by up to 10 per cent.

Professor Christopher Shuh from MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering said: “When you change a material’s shape down at the atomic level, there’s a whole lot of damage that can be created. Atoms have to reshuffle and change their structure. And as atoms are moving and reshuffling, it’s sort of easy to get them in the wrong spots and create defects and damage the material, which leads them to fatigue and eventually fall apart.”

Details about the new material were published in the scientific journal Nature on Wednesday. It explained how researchers used computational thermodynamics, phase transformation physics, crystallographic calculations and machine learning to create it.

And while practical use is still a while away, researchers believe the potential is huge.

Professor Shuh said: “It’s very hard to scale down a hydraulic piston, it’s hard to make on the micro scale. [But] the idea that you have a solid-state version of that at very small scales – I’ve always felt there are a lot of applications for microscale motions. Microrobots in small places, lab-on-a-chip valves, lots of small things that need actuation could benefit from smart wearables like this.”

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