Air Force

Light-activated polymers with shape memory

Optically controlled smart materials


Schematic representation of reversible SMP crosslinking. Tg – glass transition temp.

Shape memory polymers (SMPs) are stimuli-responsive materials that remember their original shape that can be recovered from a temporary fixed shape by exposure to external stimuli such as heat, light, electricity, moisture, solvent, or magnetic field.

Air Force researchers have identified glassy azobenzene as one such SMP material that can bend bi-directionally when exposed to blue-green light of 440–514 nm. It retains the photo-deformed state upon removal of light for a significant period of time. It can then be returned to its original state by specific light activation. SMPs have already found commercial utility in building materials and ophthalmic devices. They will further intrude into areas like photo-responsive switches; additional medical devices such as stents, shunts, and sutures; and self-repairing vehicle structures, to name only a few potential applications.

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