The Future with Smart Materials

By Leonis | STEM stuff | 19 Nov 2019

Back to the video I mentioned in my last post, the second part of it was about smart materials.



         In the video, the type of smart material falls under "photomechanical" material. As the name suggests, it is responsive to light. Blinds that open by themselves may seem underwhelming, but that is a use case.

         Wikipedia gives a list of different types of smart materials. I bet most of us likely never knew so many materials could perform spontaneous reactions. Chances are, we are using devices utilizing these things daily whether be at work, home, etc.

         My first exposure to the concept of smart materials was likely over a decade ago. I recall watching TV and there was a segment about the fuel tanks in US Humvees. This was back when the War on Terror was a thing (is it still a thing?). This falls more into the "self healing" category.

         Of course, the military has been using self healing fuel tanks, etc. since World War II. It turns out, self healing applications go further back than the 20th Century. I came across articles about Roman concrete, and that blew my mind. The way the Romans built their structures and stood the test of time was because of smart materials.

         Back to the list of smart materials, some of the reactions work well as indicators or sensors. Why built expensive electronics when you could tell what is happening with your eyes? This is one type of things smart materials can help with industries in the future.

         I had the opportunity to go through a web page about materials engineering. And, it touched on the exact points I thought. Appropriate smart materials would not only reduce the complexity of maintenance work. They would also cut down the labor hours needed to perform checks. Also, the point mentioned before: reduce wastes.

         Working in a clinical laboratory, it's always interesting to see from the medical side. Here are some examples of smart materials used in the field of medicine:

         From that list, I recognize hydrogel and Nitinol.

         The story of Nitinol is a neat one. In short, it wasn't designed to be of medical use in the beginning. It was one of those accidental discoveries that turned out to be very good for cardiology. I'm not making this up, even Saes Group tells the same tale.

         As for hydrogel, many of you may have seen the bandages from Band-aid. There are more sophisticated uses when it comes to cell cultures and whatnot. But, I won't be going into great details about them.

         What will happen in the next decade or two? Given the wide list of the different types of smart materials, I hope a lot. We could have better building materials. We could have better medical devices and diagnostic tools. We may even produce better industry standard workflow by reducing waste and time. Who knows what people would discover throughout the journey?

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