A new shapeshifting material can be preprogrammed to unfold at a specific second, minute or hour. The special polymer, developed by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Akron, could be used in a range of areas from biomedicine -- such as administering a patient's drug therapy -- to engineering -- such as building a spacecraft.
Other morphing materials exist. But they mainly require some kind of external trigger -- light, heat, water, a difference in pH level -- to set the changes in motion.
For this new material the trigger is internal.
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In their scientific report, Xiaobo Hu and his colleagues give the analogy of the internal workings of a mechanical watch. A spring provides the energy, while the gears to regulate the energy's release.
For the shapeshifting material, the internal mechanisms are not springs or gears but two different networks of chemical bonds inside a hydrogel polymer.
One network is dynamic, possessing the energy that ultimately transforms the shape of the object. The other network flows at a predictable state, which can be used to control how quickly the object transforms.
WATCH VIDEO: Morphing Matter