Smart Material: A Metal That Becomes Hard Or Soft At The Flick Of A Switch

The only difference between science facts and science fiction is that facts have to be stranger. A German materials scientist Jörg Weißmüller and Chinese physicist Hai-Jun Jin have created a metallic material that can go hard or soft at the flick of a switch. The material is porous and responds to electrical signals, making it go hard and brittle to soft and malleable.

What is it?

The material is mainly made up of metals such as gold. This is then placed in a strongly acidic medium, which makes it porous. These pores are then filled with a liquid which is conducting in nature, like saline water. This liquid holds the key, as when a current is passed, electrons are withdrawn from the surface of the metals (or added, as the case may be). This leads to an increase (or decrease) in the hardness of the material. The duo measured the increase of the strength of the material and found that it sometimes doubled.

The pores

The Future?

The prospect of such a material need hardly be spelt out explicitly. The project is still in its infancy and will require more fundamental research before it can be used as a technology.  As Weißmüller points out,

We are still at the fundamental research stage but our discovery may bring significant progress in the development of so-called smart materials.

Scientists are already contemplating the path forward with materials that can be hard in one portion and malleable in another. A further development might be materials that heal themselves. A crack in a hard material can be healed by softening it, making it malleable and then fixing it.

The future belongs to smart materials. We already told you about moldable metals and now a material whose hardness is switchable. Watch this space for more…

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.