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Hard or soft: At the touch of a button
Date:6/6/2011

and forth between a state of strong and brittle behavior and one of soft and malleable. We are still at the fundamental research stage but our discovery may bring significant progress in the development of so-called smart materials."

A Marriage of Metal and Water: In order to produce this innovative material, material scientists employ a comparatively simple process: corrosion. The metals, typically precious metals such as gold or platinum, are placed in an acidic solution. As a consequence of the onset of the corrosion process, minute ducts and holes are formed in the metal. The emerging nanostructured material is pervaded by a network of pore channels.

The pores are impregnated with a conductive liquid, for example a simple saline solution or a diluted acid, and a true hybrid material of metal and liquid is thus created. It is the unusual "marriage", as Weimller calls this union of metal and water which, when triggered by an electric signal, enables the properties of the material to change at the touch of a button.

As ions are dissolved in the liquid, the surfaces of the metal can be electrically charged. In other words, the mechanical properties of the metallic partner are changed by the application of an electric potential in the liquid partner. The effect can be traced back to a strengthening or weakening of the atomic bonding in the surface of the metal when extra electrons are added to or withdrawn from the surface atoms. The strength of the material can be as much as doubled when required. Alternatively, the material can be switched to a state which is weaker, but more damage tolerant, energy-absorbing and malleable.

Specific applications are still a matter for the future. However, researchers are already thinking ahead. In principle, the material can create electric signals spontaneously and selectively, so as to strengthen the matter in regions of local stress concentration. Damage, for instance in the form of cracks,
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Contact: Prof. Dr. Joerg Weissmueller
weissmueller@tu-harburg.de
49-404-287-83035
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert

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