A new shape memory material stays strong even after tens of millions of transformations. It may finally pave way for widespread usage of the futuristic materials.
In theory, shape-memory metals ought to be revolutionizing every corner of technology already, from the automotive industry to biotech. These futuristic metals—which can be bent and deformed but pop back to their original shape when heated or jolted with electricity—have already existed for decades. Until now, though, every shape-memory alloy has faced the same glaring issue: they wear out, and fast. Depending on the alloy, the metals will slowly lose their ability to change shape after just a few (or if you're lucky, a few thousand) transformations. That's kept the metals in the lab and out of your car or phone.
Today a team of German and American scientists have stumbled across an alloy of shape-memory metal that just won't quit—not even after being bent and reshaped an astonishing 10 million times, an unparallelled feat.
Manfred Wuttig, a material scientist at the University of Maryland who helped lead the team, said the metal's "fortuitous discovery," was part of a long, frustrating hunt for durable shape-memory metal. As Wuttig and his colleagues detail in a new paper in the journal Science, understanding the secret to this material's hardiness may open the floodgates to a new generation of shape-memory materials that make it into the real world.