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Shape Memory Alloys

This film clip shows some of the latest ideas for aeroplanes being trialled by NASA. Amongst the concepts are wings which change shape while in the air to make the aeroplane faster and more fuel efficient. This is only possible due to a remarkable range of smart materials. One of the materials being used is a nickel titanium shape memory alloy. It can be bent and twisted like ordinary steel wire, but when an electric current or heat is used to raise it above its threshold temperature it enters a super elastic state and returns to its original shape. When the wire is coiled into a spring, it can be used to generate a pulling force. Known as muscle wire, this is increasingly being used in low cost actuators and switches.

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