Making a smart material smarter

September 15, 2015

A team of researchers, including some from Michigan State University, is making a smart material smarter.

Using a series of grants from the National Science Foundation, the team is manipulating a material known as vanadium dioxide, or VO2, making it useable in a size that is barely visible to the naked eye.

"My research team works on integrating smart materials in small devices and systems," said Nelson Sepulveda, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering who is heading up the work. "Think about shrinking a robot and making it fit inside a human hair."

More recently, the MSU College of Engineering researchers, working with colleagues from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, extended the applications of VO2 by integrating the material in antennas, which makes their tuning easier.

The material experiences what's known as a solid-to-solid phase change, which means it remains a solid (instead of becoming a liquid or gas). In other words, the material is a solid at room temperature, but when you heat it up slightly, it becomes another type of solid with very different properties.

This ability to alter its shape is particularly useful in the communications field. Specifically, it can be used in radio and cell phone antennas, allowing a user to switch bands using the same antenna.

"A good example is the military," Sepulveda said. "If you're communicating on one channel and suddenly the enemy jams it, you need to switch because it's become compromised. Now that is very easy to do. We have just demonstrated that the technology works and there is much more exciting results coming soon."

Another practical use for this smarter smart material is in the field of health and medicine.

"When perfected, it could allow for very precise microsurgery, helping surgeons pinpoint tissue for selective treatment," Sepulveda said.

The advantage of VO2 is it is able to change phases very easily and in a reversible way. Often a phase change involves extreme temperature changes, and in many cases the phase change is not reversible. Additionally, the material remembers what is happening to it, that is the material has memory.

"That's the beauty of it," Sepulveda said. "It's the only smart material that has a phase change that is relatively close to room temperature."
The work was funded by a series of NSF grants totaling $860,000.

Other members of the research team include lead researcher Dimitris Anagnostou and graduate student Tarron Teeslink from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and MSU graduate student David Torres.The research was detailed earlier this year in the IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters.

Michigan State University

Related Phase Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Quantum simulation for 3D chiral topological phase
Professor Liu at PKU, Professor Du and Professor Wang at USTC build up a quantum simulator using nitrogen-vacancy center to investigate a three-dimensional (3D) chiral topological insulator which was not realized in solid state system, and demonstrate a complete study of both the bulk and surface topological physics by quantum quenches.

Discovery of massless electrons in phase-change materials provides next step for future electronics
Researchers have found electrons that behave as if they have no mass, called Dirac electrons, in a compound used in rewritable discs, such as CDs and DVDs.

Study of supercooled liquids contributes to better understanding of phase change processes
The authors propose a new quantitative approach to better measure the crystal growth rate in supercooled liquids.

A phase battery for quantum technologies
The work has been published today in the prestigious journal Nature Nanotechnology and has been led by the groups of Francesco Giazotto (NEST-CNR Institute, Pisa) and Sebastian Bergeret (CFM, CSIC-UPV/EHU, DIPC, Donostia / San Sebastian), with the collaboration of Salerno University.

Proteasome phase separation for destruction
Researchers at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science (TMiMS) discovered proteasome-containing droplets, which are formed by acute hyperosmotic stress.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Current pledges to phase out coal power are critically insufficient to slow climate change
The Powering Past Coal Alliance, or PPCA, is a coalition of 30 countries and 22 cities and states, that aims to phase out unabated coal power.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Phase transitions: The math behind the music
Physics Professor Jesse Berezovsky contends that until now, much of the thinking about math and music has been a top-down approach, applying mathematical ideas to existing musical compositions as a way of understanding already existing music.

Read More: Phase Change News and Phase Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to