Shapeshifting? Researchers use heat to restore crumpled metal

It's not quite Terminator 2's T-1000 but it sounds eerily close. Scientists at the University of Illinois this week detailed how they can make crumpled kitchen aluminum foil lay flat for reuse, straighten crumpled car bumpers overnight and remove dents in car doors with a hairdryer. Normally, when a piece of metal is bent, the change in shape becomes permanent, but when heat is added to bent metal films having the right microstructure, the researchers found, the metal return to its original shapes researchers said in a release. The higher the temperature, the sooner the metal films revert. "It's as though the metal has a memory of where it came from," said Taher A. Saif, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois, and senior author of a paper that describes the findings in the March 30 issue of the journal Science. "We found that the type of metal doesn't matter, said Saif, who also is a Willett Faculty Scholar and a researcher at the university's Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. "What matters is the size of the grains in the metal's crystalline microstructure, and a distribution in the size." The idea of so-called memory metals isn't new as work has been ongoing in a number of shape memory alloy arenas. In addition, the governments research arm DARPA has been looking at shapeshifting technology for the battlefield for a few years now.

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