A heat sensitive shapeshifter that can lift 1000 times it’s own weight? It may sound like one of Superman’s more challenging evil adversaries, bent on taking over the world, but it’s actually the latest invention from the department of Chemical Engineering at Rochester University and may prove to be highly beneficial to the medical profession as artificial skin and sutures, or as self-fitting apparel.
Professor Mitch Anthamatten and Rochester University graduate student Yuan Meng have just this week unveiled their discovery of a novel re-programmable polymer that can lock into a new, solid form and then revert to it’s original shape upon contact with heat in the Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics.
The polymer can be made to take on a new shape and then revert to its original one at a precisely programmed temperature, permitting human body-heat to act as the substance’s cue to shapeshift. “Our shape-memory polymer is like a rubber band that can lock itself into a new shape when stretched,” Anthamatten said.
The “shape memory polymer” works by forming crystals as it cools or is stretched. These crystals inhibit the substance’s ability to revert to its original state, and the more crystals form, the harder it is for the substance to go back. Consequently it becomes fixed in this new form until the application of heat allows the polymer to quickly revert to its previous shape. Videos released by Rochester University show the polymer stretched into a new, extended formation and then shapeshifting back to its original condition when crystals formed inside it melt on contact with the tip of Professor Anthamatten’s finger:
“[…] a simple touch causes it to recoil back to its original shape.”
Anthamatten’s team of scientists claim the new ‘superhero’ material can lift up to 1,000 times its own mass. According to CNET, this means that a small shoelace-sized piece of the polymer can lift a bottle of soda by employing the concentrated elastic energy stored within the substance’s polymer networks.