Smart materials concept introduction


What is a smart material?

           Smart materials:By definition also called intelligent or responsive materials, are designed materials that have one or more properties that can be significantly changed in a controlled fashion by external stimuli.

shape memory polymer

Piezoelectric materials

Liquid metal

Are they truly ‘smart’?

           Conventional ‘smart’ materials:Although these traditional smart materials can change some of their properties according to the external environment, these changes are passive. Simply put, these materials can only be regarded as mechanical spontaneous actuators.

What are the key elements to make a real smart material?

Three key elements for a smart material

               Real ‘smart’ materials:Have you have ever seen captain marvel? in the movie, a bunch of aliens called shapeshifters can transform into any object that they see. So there is a scene, in order to avoid captain marvel, they disguise into an old lady, and got hit right into the face. And also in the movie transformer, the human-made transformer Galvatron although got hit into pieces can reconstruct itself into the initial state. These two clips give us a very great description of the key elements for self-evolving.

        Let’s imagine, What if the sample that we fabricated has a great sensing ability to a certain type of property that we are interested in, so it can sense this property of any object, just like the shapeshifter’s eyes can scan the object they want to transform into. And then the sample also has constructability like the Galvatron, it can reconstruct this property by itself. Also, by integrating learning ability into this sample, at first, the sample doesn’t know the exact way to become the target object, but by trying little steps, it can learn by itself how to approach the target.

        By combining these three key capabilities together, the sample can evolve itself to any possible object without any external manual operation, and especially for the very complex object, it will be a fast way perhaps the only way to accomplish it with high accuracy. This is the fundamental idea of self-evolving, and if a material has the self-evolving ability, as if it can think and learn also evolve by itself, it can be called a smart material.

Smart materials in the future

If you have extra time, please take a look at this video, it’s a quite inspiring talk in the smart materials field. 

Please try it by yourself to let your LEDs self-evolving!

About the Author

    Yun Bai

Ph.D. student, MEMS, Duke

         Ni lab


Email Address:


M.S. in Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University

B.E. in Materials Science and Engineering, Huazhong University of Science and Technology