A New Composite Material can Regulate its Temperature

A New Composite Material can Regulate its Temperature

The bio-inspired engineering approach could lead to the most advanced materials, ever.

The name itself suggests that a ‘Composite Material’ is made from two or more constituent materials, which have significantly different physical or chemical properties. Despite the fact that the individual components remain distinct in the final entity, the properties of the resulting composite material are different from those components. Straw and mud are the first man-made composite materials that were created to form bricks for construction. Similarly, the combination of daub and water is among the earliest man-made composite materials of the world. Concrete is the most commonly used man-made material around the world. According to an estimate in 2006, around 7.5 billion cubic meters of concrete was made every year and the figure has only gone above since then.

There are several reasons why these new materials are preferred when compared to their traditional counterparts. For instance, they are lighter, cheaper, or stronger than their constituent materials. In order to enhance the efficiency of these composite materials, scientists reinforced them with engineering to produce some of the most useful substances of our everyday life like plywood, fiberglass, metal matrix composites, reinforced concrete, and other advanced composite materials. Some common applications of composite materials include bridges, racing car bodies, bathtubs, buildings, imitation granite, swimming pool panels, and marble countertops. In addition to that, they are also used in the manufacturing of aircraft and spacecraft, which operate in a pretty demanding environment.

The ever-increasing demands of the space missions require continuous improvement in the material of the spacecraft to counter the extreme atmospheric conditions of the deep space. For this reason, researchers are always trying to discover the most adaptable material for these missions. According to the latest study published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports’ on the 26th of October, the researchers from the University of Nottingham might have found something extraordinary which could revolutionize the industry of spacecraft. The researchers claim to be developing a cutting-edge material which could cool itself down under extreme temperatures. Dr. Mark Alston, an Assistant Professor in Environmental Design who led this research, talked about that and said,

A major challenge in material science is to work out how to regulate human-made material temperature as the human body can do in relationship to its environment.”

He explained the method they used and told the world that a network of multiple micro-channels with active fluidics can be used to produce a thermally-functional material from a synthetic polymer. They made use of some precise control measures to enhance the material. This allows the material to regulate its own temperature in relationship to its environment by switching the conductive states. Alston elaborated the process and the ultimate benefits in the following words:

This bio-inspired engineering approach advances the structural assembly of polymers for use in advanced materials. Nature uses fluidics to regulate and manage temperature in mammals and in plants to absorb solar radiation through photosynthesis and this research used a leaf-like model to mimic this function in the polymer. This approach will result in an advanced material that can absorb high solar radiation, as the human body can do, to cool itself autonomously whatever the environment it is placed in. A thermally-functional material could be used as a heat regulation system for burn injuries to cool skin surface temperature and monitor and improve healing.”

In addition to the medical benefits, this technique could prove incredibly beneficial for the structural integrity of space capsules as solar radiations beat down on their surface during spaceflights. Other than the structural advantages, this regulation of temperature could lead to the generation of useful power. The heat energy from the composite material can be stored in a reservoir tank on board the capsule after removing the energy from the re-circulating fluid. The stored energy can then be converted into different forms of energy according to the needs of the flight crew.

Despite all the promise, there is a long way to go as the experiments for this research were performed at the scale of a laboratory. The researching team acknowledged that and is trying to arrange a funding to scale-up the discovery. They are also looking for an industrial partner from the aerospace industry to give a massive financial boost to their experiments.

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