What are smart and modern materials?

Smart materials are ‘reactive materials’. Their properties can be changed by exposure to stimuli, such as electric and magnetic fields, stress, moisture and temperature.

Modern materials are developed through the invention of new or improved processes, for example as a result of manmade materials/ingredients. They are altered to perform a particular function. Many smart and modern materials are developed for specialised applications but some eventually become available for general use.

Smart materials respond to differences in temperature or light and change in some way. They are called smart because they sense conditions in their environment and respond to those conditions. Smart materials appear to think and have a memory as they revert back to their original state. Fibre and fabric technology developments have created a whole range of smart and modern textiles that can be used in many applications. These textiles have been used in functional sportswear, medical and safety wear and fashion clothing. Smart fabrics have been created that can create a sense of well being – they have anti stress or calming inducing properties.

Smart textiles have a number of medical uses. Fabrics can be encapsulated with substances required by the body or antiseptics. Allergy control fabrics can be used in bedding for people with breathing problems caused by dust mites.

Other smart textiles include sanitised fabrics for sportswear and socks which have anti microbial properties. Anti-bacterial and anti fungal fabrics have been used in clothing, linens, towels and carpets.

Examples of smart and modern materials include conductive polymers, colour changing liquid crystals and motion control gels. Many modern and smart materials perform essential roles in a wide range of products – from motion control gels i.e. smart grease regulate the movement of components for example microscope barrels, variable resistors and slow spring return in CD drawers.

Modern and smart materials can push forward the boundaries of designing and making through the use of SMA’s liquid crystal technology, motion control gel etc. Wearable technology and wearable interaction are being enabled by the development of intelligent fabrics with new electrical and mechanical properties.