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Plastics with Shape Memory...

Thermoplastics are considered malleable because they can be melted and then formed into a new shape to produce products such as food containers and bottles.  This malleable characteristic is what allows products made from thermoplastics to be recycled. 

Thermoset is a polymer material that cures irreversibly, meaning, once hardened a thermoset resin cannot be reheated and melted to be shaped differently. The material provides strength and rigidity, however is non-recyclable due to their cross-linking chemical bond make up. 

A new plastic developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Washington State University is designed to rebound to its originally formed shape despite shape transformation controlled or caused by temperature variations.   The plastic is termed as a shape-memory polymer, as it is capable of “remembering” its initial shape and returning back even after being subjected to deformation by heat or other forces.  The polymer displays triple-shape memory behavior. 

At a given temperature, it is able to move from its original state (left), through a series of temporary shapes, returning, ultimately,  to its initial permanent form (right) at another temperature, which can be seen in the following video.

Researchers have been interested in making use of the shape-memory polymer’s intriguing characteristics, but in the past controlling the transformation temperatures and their properties has been a struggle.  Researchers are transitioning from scientific curiosity to something that can be produced in large volumes by providing a recipe which adjusts the transformation temperature and shifts the performance of the material.  Changing the ratio of the ingredients allows the researchers to control the overall properties of the material.  The ability to control the shape-memory behavior of the material provides great design flexibility for developing new products.


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