New material mimics nature to regulate temperature

Nature has inspired a new material that regulates its own temperature and could be used to treat burns or help spacecraft withstand atmospheric forces.

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According to Dr Mark Alston, Assistant Professor in Environmental Design, from Nottingham University’s Faculty of Engineering, a major challenge in material science is to work out how to regulate the temperature of man-made materials as the human body does in relationship to its environment.

The research, published in the Scientific Reports, is said to have used a network of multiple microchannels with active flowing fluids (fluidics) as a method and proof of concept to develop a thermally-functional material made of a synthetic polymer that switches conductive states to manage its own temperature in relationship to its environment.

“This bio-inspired engineering approach advances the structural assembly of polymers for use in advanced materials,” said Dr Alston. “Nature uses fluidics to regulate and manage temperature in mammals and in plants to absorb solar radiation through photosynthesis and this research used a leaf-like model to mimic this function in the polymer.

“This approach will result in an advanced material that can absorb high solar radiation, as the human body can do, to cool itself autonomously whatever the environment it is placed in. A thermally-functional material could be used as a heat regulation system for burn injuries to cool skin surface temperature and monitor and improve healing.”

According to Nottingham University, this kind of heat flow management could also be used in space where high solar loads can cause thermal stresses on the structural integrity of spacecraft.

Regulating the temperature of the vehicle’s structural material could provide the added benefit of generating power. This thermal energy could be removed from the re-circulated fluid system to be stored in a reservoir tank on board the capsule. Once captured, the energy could be converted into electrical energy or to heat water for use by the crew.

The next steps for the research are to secure funding for a demonstrator scale-up to present to aerospace manufacturing and to identify an industrial partner.

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