Elastic materials are a common part of the everyday experience, but the nylon, spandex or common plastics most of us are familiar with are very different from a specific kind of material being developed in the lab of Mitchell Anthamatten, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Rochester.
The materials coming out of this lab are called shape memory polymers, and they have chemical properties that allow them to do amazing things. These polymers typically have a permanent state, which is the state they'll always return to after being stretched into what is known as a temporary state. One unique attribute of this particular material is that they can hold their temporary state at about room temperature or below, and return to their permanent state rather quickly, with only a slight increase in temperature. Contact with the temperature of the human body is enough to melt the crystalline structures within the polymer and return them to their permanent state.
The stored energy is another important capability of this material. This attribute allows these materials to do work as they return to the permanent state, such as lifting a weight or compressing something.
While shape memory polymers have been around a while, scientists are understanding better ways to make them everyday, and they soon may become a part of the everyday experience, just as many other types of elastic already are.