Researchers have successfully combined multiple functions into a single smart life-like material for the first time. These ‘designer’ materials could be used in the robotics, automotive, aerospace and security industries.
We’re peeling back some of the layers of mystery that surround life
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a simple ‘recipe’ for combining multiple materials with single functions into a single material with multiple functions: movement, recall of movement and sensing – similar to muscles in animals. The materials could be used to make robotics far more efficient by replacing bulky devices with a single, smarter, life-like material. The results are published in the journal Advanced Materials.
The new designer materials integrate the structure of two or more separate functions at the nanoscale, while keeping the individual materials physically separate. The gaps between the individual elements are so small that the final material is uniformly able to perform the functions of its component parts.
The materials are synthesised either in a one-pot reaction, with or without solvents; or through a series of sequential reactions, where the component parts are synthesised separately one by one, and sequentially infiltrated and cross-linked at the nanoscale.
“We’re used to thinking of synthetic materials as structural, rather than functional things,” said Dr Stoyan Smoukov of the University’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, who led the research. “But we’re now entering a new era of multi-functional materials, which could be considered robots themselves, since we can program them to carry out a series of actions independently.”
Smoukov’s group had previously demonstrated combined movement and muscle memory in a single material, but this is the first time that materials have been specifically designed and synthesised to perform multiple functions.
Smart polymers were first developed several decades ago, but multiple functions have not been effectively combined in the same material, since previous efforts have found that optimising one function came at the expense of the other.
In these new materials, the individual functions are integrated yet kept separate at the nanoscale. The researchers combined two different types of smart materials: an ionic electro-active polymer (i-EAP), which bends or swells with the application of voltage and are used in soft robotics; and a two-way shape memory polymer (SMP), which can be programmed to adopt and later recall specific shapes, in a type of muscle memory.
The resulting combined material is what’s known as an inter-penetrated network (IPN). Due to the fact that the separate components are meshed at the nanoscale, there are unbroken paths within each component from one side of the material to the other, yet there are nanoscale boundaries between them as well. Such IPNs are highly resistant to cracks, making them very mechanically stable. Rather than stop at mechanical stability, the researchers were interested in using these structures to make multi-functional artificial muscles, which can move, sense, and also report on their environment.
The movement in these hybrid materials can be controlled in several different ways, including by light, temperature, chemicals, electric field or magnetic field. These various stimuli can be used to make the materials change colour, emit light or energy, or change shape.
Making IPNs has been tried before with a type of plastic known as a block copolymer, but it has been difficult to fine-tune their exact structure because of difficult synthetic procedures. These difficulties limit the types of functionalities that can be combined, and those that are made are sometimes too costly for practical applications. In this case the researchers were able to use phase separation combined with ordinary polymer syntheses to achieve the complex structures.
According to the researchers, utilising this technique may open up a whole new avenue for smart materials, since materials that have been designed for other, single, purposes could create a large variety of multi-functional combinations. Much like choosing from an array of starters, main courses and desserts in a restaurant menu to create a multitude of dinner options, materials that perform different single functions can be combined in a mix-and-match approach to perform a myriad of tri-functional combinations. And in theory, according to the researchers, more than three intertwined components are achievable as well.
“It’s sort of like proteins, where using just 20 amino acids, you can get 8,000 different combinations of three amino acids,” said Smoukov. “Using this method, we can pick and choose from a menu of functions, and then mix them together to make materials that can do multiple things.”
The capabilities of these materials could make them very useful in robotics – in fact, said Smoukov, these types of materials could even be considered robots on their own.
“We’re trying to design materials that approach the flexibility of living things,” said Smoukov. “Looking at the functionality of living things, we then want to extract that functionality and find a way to do it more simply in a synthetic material. We’re peeling back some of the layers of mystery that surround life.”
Read more: ‘Pick & mix’ smart materials for robotics
The Latest on: Smart materials
via Google News
The Latest on: Smart materials
- PINs and text messages can be inferred from smart speaker recordings, study showson December 3, 2020 at 6:33 am
A study from researchers at the University of Cambridge shows that smartphone PINs and texts could be inferred by smart speaker recordings.
- Smart Scale Market 2021 Size Global Industry, Segments, Share and Growth Factor Analysis, Top Key Players Research Report 2025on December 3, 2020 at 4:32 am
Global "Smart Scale Market" (2021-2025) gives in-depth information on Smart Scale market industry by top-leading ...
- Smart Screen Heal Thyselfon December 2, 2020 at 7:16 pm
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) have announced a transparent, self-healing polyimide material designed for smart phone screens. A KIST team from the Composite Materials ...
- Self-repairing gelatin-based film could be a smart move for electronicson December 2, 2020 at 7:59 am
Dropping a cell phone can sometimes cause superficial cracks to appear. But other times, the device can stop working altogether because fractures develop in the material that stores data. Now, ...
- The Technical Hurdle 5G Must Jump To Bring Us Smart Citieson December 1, 2020 at 1:25 pm
G relies on higher frequency signals transmitted with precision, which creates a production challenge for mobile chipmakers. But a nearly 20-year-old Japanese innovation could be the solution.
- Smart Materials Market Industry Outlook, Growth Prospects And Key Opportunitieson November 30, 2020 at 10:50 pm
Allied Analytics :A new report by Allied Market Research, titled, Smart Material Market Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2015 2022, projects that the global smart material market is ...
- Worldwide Smart Materials Market Size to record notable gains through 2025on November 29, 2020 at 8:00 pm
The Smart Materials market report provides a detailed analysis of global market size, regional and country-level market size, segmentation market growth, market share, competitive Landscape, sales ...
- Sound waves power new advances in drug delivery and smart materialson November 24, 2020 at 12:19 pm
Sound waves power new advances in drug delivery and smart materials Date: November 24, 2020 Source: RMIT University Summary: Sound waves have been part of science and medicine for decades, but the ...
- Sound waves power new advances in drug delivery and smart materialson November 24, 2020 at 8:17 am
Researchers have revealed how high-frequency sound waves can be used to build new materials, make smart nanoparticles and even deliver drugs to the lungs for painless, needle-free vaccinations.
- Sound waves power new advances in drug delivery and smart materialson November 24, 2020 at 7:20 am
(Nanowerk News) Researchers have revealed how high-frequency sound waves can be used to build new materials, make smart nanoparticles and even deliver drugs to the lungs for painless, needle-free ...
via Bing News