A recent analysis of the CAS content collection shows a notable increase in the number of research articles and patents related to shape-shifting materials since the late 1980s—with more than 40 percent of these publications originating from researchers in China, ~25 percent from the U.S. and Japan, and South Korea also a major contributor.
Although shape-shifting materials have been around for decades—you may have even played with a simple form as a child—scientists have recently uncovered countless new materials and combinations of materials that exhibit shape-shifting properties with potential applications in manufacturing, electronics, medicine and more.
At CAS, our scientists index an extensive range of shape-shifting materials research as they curate the world's largest collection of chemistry insights. In this blog post, we explore the cutting-edge in shape-shifting materials and show how our unique bird's-eye view of the research landscape can help scientists across disciplines and industries make connections to drive innovation in emerging technologies.
A bright future for shape-shifting polymers
Shape-shifting polymers, one of the most widely studied shape-shifting materials, can change their shape when exposed to external stimuli, such as heat, light, humidity, pH, solvent, magnetism, electric response or tension/compression. While these materials have proven value in a number of applications, including shrink-wraps or heat-shrink tubing used in electric connectors, the permanency of their transformation has limited their use.
Materials that combine polymers with thermally responsive liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) can change their shape back and forth according to the temperature applied. LCEs imbued with azobenzene become light responsive due to the switch between trans- and cis- isomers at different wavelengths of light. For example, researchers at the University of Colorado recently published their work on a “fully reversible shape-switching material” that can transform into and out of a complex shape when exposed to light and temperature stimuli.
By combining shape-shifting materials with carbon fibers or magnetic fillers, scientist can also fine tune, speed up or gain more control over their properties. In one recent example, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology embedded a polymer material with ferromagnetic microparticles to “enable fast transformations between complex 3D shapes via magnetic actuation.” These new and exciting multi-materials will push the limits of what can be achieved with shape-shifting technologies.
In a recent Composites Weekly podcast, we discussed some of the most exciting new developments in shape shifting materials, including what has been termed 4D printing—or time-evolving structures. This technology allows for sequential shape transformations by mixing and matching different materials to introduce the element of time response.
Overcoming the challenge of innovation in emerging technologies
For organizations interested in leveraging shape-shifting technologies, finding the latest information is not as simple as it may seem. New developments in emerging technologies are often the result of research contributions from many different scientific disciplines and the use of inconsistent terminology in journal articles and patents presents a challenge.
Those looking for information on the topic should consider all of the various ways the technology is described. For shape-shifting materials, shape-memory, shape-changing, morphing, and more recently, smart materials, may be relevant to your particular interest. Standardized terminology added by CAS scientists, one benefit of using a human-curated data source, makes it easier to find comprehensive information on emerging technologies.
Language barriers are an additional challenge. In the case of shape-shifting materials, many of the key developments are published first in Chinese, Japanese or Korean journals and patents, making it difficult for those not fluent in these languages to locate and assess. CAS scientists, speaking more than 50 languages, provide an English-language title and abstract for each publication to ensure global access to this critical information.
CAS's intellectually indexed content collection, paired with information solutions such as SciFindern, help your researchers get a comprehensive view of shape-shifting materials research—from the earliest, seminal publications to the very latest discoveries—enabling innovation across disciplines and terminologies. Does your organization have the information resources it needs to stay up-to-speed, uncover global trends and learn about potential innovation partners in emerging technologies that impact your industry? Learn how CAS can help.