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SNHS Spotlight: Discoveries in Shape-Shifting Ceramics Could Create a Technological Revolution

This past month an international team of researchers from both the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Kiel University in Germany made a large discovery in the world of ceramics. This research could greatly expand upon previous studies and allow for a more diverse utilization of ceramics. 

In technological application, ceramics are not just the materials our coffee mugs, plates, and 3D Art grades are based upon. Ceramics and their properties make them an important component of circuitry since they may be semiconducting, superconducting, ferroelectric, or insulating.Since they are not corrosive they are unique to other fiber-optic materials and consequently are paramount in the creation of many electronic devices ranging from cellphones to ultrasound devices. However, as any individual who has broken a dish is well aware, ceramics are extremely brittle and break easily, thereby limiting the true potential of their applications – until now.

Pictures sourced from twin-cities.umn.edu and rca.ac.uk

This new research has opened the door for producing reversible shapes with ceramics through the combination of shape memory alloys, a material often used in medical stents, and ceramics. After extensive trial and error testing, the team discovered how to apply deformable and reshapable characteristics to ceramics. The research published in Nature elaborated upon the chemical and physical principles of reformable materials which was principal to this discovery. The research stated, “The origin of this shape-shifting behavior is a solid-to-solid phase transformation. Different from the process of crystallization-melting-recrystallization, crystalline solid-solid transitions take place solely in the solid state. By changing temperature (or pressure), a crystalline solid can be transformed into another crystalline solid without entering a liquid phase.” 

Beyond acting as conductors and insulators, ceramics possess the potential to produce electricity when compressed; however this quality is rarely used since ceramics previously easily crumbled under pressure. By synthesizing the behavior of shape-shifting materials with the unique properties of ceramics scientists have made it possible for medical devices to be produced on a larger scale, the prices of devices like phones to reduce, and even potentially for more countries to transition to renewable energy and reduce climate change. 

By: Lauren Grae’23, SNHS Member and Co-Junior Editor-in-Chief

Sources:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/11/211117211559.htm
https://twin-cities.umn.edu/news-events/exploding-and-weeping-ceramics-provide-path-new-shape-shifting-material
https://ceramics.org/company/modern-ceramics-help-advance-technology