SHAPE MEMORY ALLOYS Rethinking the future of alloys that think for themselves

Nov 01, 2007 | 10:44 AM |

Shape-shifting metallics they're the stuff of science fiction. Whether talking about "morphing" planes or modular robots that can break apart and regroup as new devices, the pace at which technology is advancing has put the sci-fi realm on a collision course with reality.

The "smart" materials come in many shapes and forms piezoelectric, altering shape under the influence of an electric charge; thermoresponsive, which shape-shift in response to ambient temperature; magnetic, obviously affected by magnetic fields; and polychromic, chromogenic and halochromic, which change color based on pH, temperature, light or electricity.

So what does this all mean? Get ready, because the day will come when you can alter the color of your car via some outside catalyst without having to buy a new vehicle or pay for a paint job.

Major applications of shape-memory alloys (SMAs) in automotive manufacturing are making inroads, but they aren't quite ready for the fast lane, at least not in North America, according to Joe Cain, product manager of Nitinol product manufacturing at Johnson Matthey Inc., San Jose, Calif. Nitinol is one type of SMA product.....

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