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The shape-memory polymers are not a recent invention. But now, thanks to new analysis by researchers at MIT, the behavior of these interesting materials have been modeled mathematically in great detail, which should provide new ways to use them. Potential applications include implantable biomedical devices, and spatial structures that could be transported to space folded into a compact form, and then, once in orbit, to be deployed.
The shape-memory materials share an unusual property: they can be compressed, twisted or bent in many configurations, but when heated above a certain critical temperature return to their original shape. The first materials of this kind to be studied were metallic alloys. However, the shape memory materials based on polymers have some significant advantages over metal.