PerspectiveMaterials Science

Potential Solutions for Creating Responsive Materials

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Science  03 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6034, pp. 1158-1159
DOI: 10.1126/science.1206856

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Structural materials are often engineered for toughness—an ability to withstand sudden impact and avoid brittle failure. If these materials could sense their surroundings and if their properties could be “tuned” with an external stimulus, then it might be possible to engineer materials that can self-repair the damage they may incur. Some composite polymeric materials have been developed with such capabilities (1). However, for many applications, we are still years away from knowing how to create and tune the properties of other useful materials. On page 1179 of this issue, Jin and Weissmüller (2) describe in situ tuning of a two-phase composite structure formed from nanoporous gold infiltrated with a perchloric acid (HClO4) electrolyte solution. They demonstrated “reversible” tuning of the flow stress—the pressure needed to maintain plastic deformation—by changing the composition of absorbed molecules on the gold surface with an applied electrochemical potential (3).