Smart and Modern Materials

A websearch shows hundreds of companies producing and selling smart materials especially nitinol:- - manufacture a wide range of nitinol products. - the Technology Enhancement Program catalogue of materials for projects including smart and modern materials.

Imagesco - go to their catalogue of interesting smart materials products.

This section is taken from the QCA website and outlines the topic effectively.

What is a smart/modern material?
Modern materials are developed through the invention of new or improved processes, for example, as a result of 'man' made materials/ingredients or human intervention, in other words not naturally occurring changes. They are altered to perform a particular function. Many smart and modern materials are developed for specialised applications but some eventually become available for general use.

Smart materials respond to differences in temperature or light and change in some way. They are called smart because they sense conditions in their environment and respond to those conditions. Smart materials appear to 'think' and some have a 'memory' as they revert back to their original state. The term 'smart' can be ambiguous as in some cases it is difficult to distinguish between modern and smart.

Food smart/modern materials
Many naturally occurring food ingredients are smart in that they respond to heat and light and some changes are reversible. Such working characteristics are already frequently exploited in food technology.

Modified starches respond to differences in temperatures, for example, they swell (thickening) in hot water or when heated, but return to a flow when cool. This working characteristic is used in pizza toppings. The topping thickens when heated in the oven and so does not run off the base, but on slight cooling the topping is runny again ready for eating. Other modified starches are used in instant desserts, which thicken without heating but do not return to their original state.

Examples of modern food materials include genetically modified foods, anti-oxidants, modified enzymes, probiotic yoghurts/drinks, TVP, Quorn and Tofu.

Smart/modern textiles
Fibre and fabric technological developments have created a whole range of smart and modern textiles which can be used in many applications. These textiles have been used in functional sportswear, medical and safetywear and fashion clothing. Smart fabrics have been developed which can create a sense of well being - they have anti-stress or calm-inducing properties. Aristoc, for example, has developed a range of well-being tights micro encapsulated with fragrant oils, moisturisers or vitamins.

Smart textiles have a number of medical uses. Fabrics can be encapsulated with substances required by the body or antiseptics. Allergy control fabrics can be used in bedding for people with breathing problems caused by dust mites.

Other smart textiles include sanitised fabrics for sportswear and socks which have anti-microbial protection. Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal fabrics have been used in clothing, linens, towels and carpets. Many synthetic fibres now have moisture management properties.

SOFTSWITCH technology is currently under development. It combines composite and conductive textile technology to produce wearable electronic fabrics. Further information can be found at

Resistant materials and systems and control
Smart/modern materials
Examples of these smart and modern materials include conductive polymers, colour-changing liquid crystals and motion control gels.

Although there is a fine dividing line between modern and smart materials, several increasingly common materials, such as the shape memory alloys (SMA) nitinol, exhibit behaviour characterised by intelligent responses within a defined product context. Graphite-loaded polymer can provide a self-regulating heating element. As the material warms, it expands and reduces conductivity between the graphic particles. SMAs can be conditioned to change structure (and shape) at pre-determined temperatures - producing desirable shape changes in garments interwoven with SMA wire.

Many modern and smart materials perform essential roles in a wide range of ubiquitous products. Motion control gels (eg smart grease) regulate the movement of components in contact to provide the right 'feel' or desirable characteristics. Sliding microscope barrels, variable resistors and slow spring-return CD drawers all incorporate motion control gels.

Modern and smart materials are increasingly available in generic forms for design and technology pupils. They can push forward the boundaries of designing and making through the use of SMAs (smart wire and smart springs), liquid crystal technology (thermochromic film), motion control gel (smart grease), optically embossed film (lenticular sheet) and many more which will be available soon.