New Shape-Shifting Super Polymer Can Lift 1000 Times Its Weight

Scientists at the University of Rochester have developed a revolutionary new ‘super polymer’ that can be stretched into any shapes because of its ability to hold on to the new form. The material can lift 1,000 times its own weight. Lead researcher Mitch Anthamatten said the super polymer would prove extremely useful in products like body-heat assisted medical dispensers, artificial skin, and self-fitting apparel.

New Shape-Shifting Super Polymer Can Lift 1000 Times Its Weight

Watch how the super polymer changes its shape

Findings of the study were published in the Journal of Polymer Science. The material is such that it can retain a temporary shape until you apply heat to bring it to its original shape and size. While returning to its permanent shape, the polymer releases a large amount of energy. In a video, Mitch Anthamatten demonstrated how it can be stretched into a new shape. Then he used body heat to make it return to its initial state.

When this super polymer returns to its original state, the energy release is so powerful that a shoelace-sized piece of the polymer could lift the weight of a liter of soda. The University of Rochester said in a statement that the material could be “tuned” so that a higher or lower temperature triggers it to jump back to its original shape. Besides storing elastic energy, scientists also wanted the material to perform “more mechanical work during their shape recovery.”

Researchers can alter the melting point

To develop the polymer, researchers focused on how to control crystallization that occurs when it is stretched or cooled. As it is deformed, polymer chains are locally stretched. And small segments of the material align in the same areas called crystallites, which fix the polymer into a deformed shape, at least temporarily. As the number of crystallites goes up, the deformed shape becomes more and more stable.

Heating the polymer to about 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit causes the crystallites to break apart. And quickly the super polymer returns to its original shape. Scientists were also able to adjust the material’s stability and alter the number and types of molecular linkers that connect individual strands to set a melting point that triggers the shape change.