Body Temperature Alone Triggers a Shape-Changing Polymer to Transform

First Posted: Feb 09, 2016 12:24 PM EST

A new polymer can visibly change shape with your body temperature. Scientists have created a new material that changes after being triggered by body heat alone.

The material is a type of shape-memory polymer, which can be programmed to retain a temporary shape until it's triggered to return to its original shape.

"Tuning the trigger temperature is only one part of the story," said Mitch Anthamatten, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We also engineered these materials to store large amounts of elastic energy, enabling them to perform more mechanical work during their shape recovery."

The key to developing the new polymer was figuring out how to control crystallization that occurs when the material is cooled or stretched. As the material is deformed, polymer chains are locally stretched, and small segments of the polymer align in the same direction in small areas-or domains-called crystallites, which fix the material into a temporarily deformed shape. As the number of crystallites grows, the polymer shape becomes more and more stable, making it increasingly difficult for the material to revert back to its initial-or "permanent"-shape.

The ability to tune the trigger temperature was achieved by including molecular linkers to connect the individual polymer strands.

"Nearly all applications of shape memory polymers will require that the material pushes or pulls on its surroundings," said Anthamatten. "However, researchers seldom measure the amount of mechanical work that shape-memory polymers are actually performing."

The new polymer could be huge for applications such as sutures, artificial skin, body heat assisted medical dispensers, and self-fitting apparel.

The findings are published in the Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics.

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