• New shape-changing smart material

Professor Andy Alderson with a piece of the piezomorphic material.

Research scientists at the University of Bolton have led the development of a new shape-changing smart material.

The new material undergoes dramatic changes in shape on simple stretching or compression. The potential applications are diverse, from smart bandages to improving the comfort and fit of prosthetic limbs, to being used in the manufacture of advanced composite components for cars and aircraft.

The team, which also includes scientists at the University of Manchester and Harbin Institute of Technology in China, has coined the phrase piezomorphic materials to describe the materials’ unique behaviour. So far, the team has.developed piezomorphic foams and polymers.

Their findings have just been published online in Macromolecular Materials and Engineering journal.

Said Professor Andy Alderson, Director of the Institute for Materials Research and Innovation and piezomorphic materials project leader: ‘Morphing materials occur in nature – the venus fly trap changes shape in response to an electrochemical stimulus, when it feels the pressure of a fly. Other morphing materials respond to changes in light, temperature or magnetic field.

‘Existing morphing materials are already used in the aerospace industry to create airplane wings that change shape, inspired by a bird’s wing.

‘Our new morphing material reacts to force, and its applications could be wide as we can, in principle, create any shape.’

So far the scientists have identified how piezomorphing materials could greatly improve comfort for people needing prosthetic limbs. The prosthetic’s fit against the limb stump can rub and cause discomfort. But a piezomorphic lining could respond to pressure applied when, for example, walking, to improve fit and greatly improve comfort.

The team has also identified smart bandages as a potential application. A bandage layered with drugs which could be released depending on wound swelling would allow controlled, condition-dependent treatment without the need for constant wound checking.

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