Engineering materials (smart materials)

There is no clear-cut definition of a smart material. The name is commonly applied to materials or components that exhibit some kind of useful response to an external change such as light, heat or pressure. Some of these materials have been discovered eg quartz a naturally occurring piezoelectric material (this produces an electrical signal when squeezed) while others have been manufactured for a particular purpose eg hydrogels (developed by NASA for absorbing body fluids while astronauts were wearing space suits).

The term smart is often applied to complete products to emphasise that they seem to have a ‘mind of the own’ although some products contain components that are ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’. Many smart materials have originated in the 21st Century but some have a longer history eg the use of bi-metallic strips from the 17th Century and porous ceramics used in the ancient world.

Developments in scientific knowledge have resulted in the design and manufacture of a wide range of metals, plastics and composites with specific and desired properties.

This list provides some suggested activities that can be used with students to demonstrate the properties and applications of some of the most common smart materials.

Whilst this list provides a source of information and ideas for experimental work, it is important to note that recommendations can date very quickly. Do NOT follow suggestions which conflict with current advice from CLEAPSS, SSERC or other recent safety guides. eLibrary users are responsible for ensuring that any activity, including practical work, which they carry out is consistent with current regulations related to health and safety and that they carry an appropriate risk assessment. Further information is provided in our health and safety guidance