Researchers create a material able to sense and monitor changes

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have announced the creation of new material that can sense and monitor changes inside the human body before a problem arises. The self-aware meta-material system has been incorporated into a coronary artery stent. The stent can sense restenosis inside the human body before it poses a risk to the patient's life. The same material also has other uses.

The new class of metamaterial was designed by researchers at the Intelligent Structural Monitoring and Response Testing lab at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. The new class of material acts as both a sensing medium and a nanogenerator and could revolutionize multifunctional material technology. The material is dubbed a self-aware metamaterial and can generate its power with a wide range of sensing and monitoring applications.

Researchers point out one of the most innovative facets of the material is that it is scalable with the same design working at the nanoscale and mega-scale. It can be incorporated into devices of different sizes by scaling the design geometry. Researcher Amir Alavi says the features of the material can't be achieved with natural materials alone, that hybrid or composite material systems are required with each layer offering its own functionality.

The material created at the University can fuse advanced meta-materials and energy harvesting technologies in multiscale with the potential to be used in devices as varied as medical stents, shock absorbers, and the wings of aircraft. Under pressure, the design of the material results in contact-electrification between its conductive and dielectric layers. That creates an electric charge that relays information about the condition of the material.

The material also exhibits negative compressibility and ultra-high resistance to deformation. The power generated by the integrated triboelectric nanogenerator mechanism eliminates the need for an additional power source. Researchers say the system could harness hundreds of watts of power at a large scale. The material could also find use in future space exploration thanks to its lightweight, low density, low cost, and highly scalable design.