New York, Feb 9 (IANS) Researchers have created a material that undergoes a shape change when triggered by body heat, thereby opening the door for new medical and other applications.
The material is a type of polymer, which can be programmed to retain a temporary shape until it is triggered – typically by heat – to return to its original shape.
“Tuning the trigger temperature is only one part of the story,” said lead researcher Mitch Anthamatten, professor at the University of Rochester in New York.
“We also engineered these materials to store large amount of elastic energy, enabling them to perform more mechanical work during their shape recovery,” Anthamatten noted.
The findings will be published in the Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics.
The key to developing the new polymer was figuring out how to control crystallisation that occurs when the material is cooled or stretched.
Heating the new polymer to temperatures near 35 degrees Celsius, just below the body temperature, causes the crystallites to break apart and the material to revert to its permanent shape.
“Our shape-memory polymer is like a rubber band that can lock itself into a new shape when stretched,” Anthamatten said.
“But a simple touch causes it to recoil back to its original shape,” Anthamatten noted.
Anthamatten said the polymer could have a variety of applications, including sutures, artificial skin, body heat assisted medical dispensers and self-fitting apparel.