“Shape memory” materials are so named because they can be deformed, then restored to their earlier shape by changing external conditions, commonly temperature. Though metallic shape memory materials (aka “shape memory alloys,” “smart metals,” and “memory metals,” among others) are best known, many plastics also exhibit shape memory effects. Formed into wires, shape memory alloys make for effective lightweight actuators that can be heated resistively, simply by running current through the wire itself. So-called “muscle wire” actuators find their way into robots, cameraphones, cars, aircraft, and medical and dental devices.


Living glass with shape memory alloy


Embedded book prototype


Origami Crane Flaps its Wings With Memory Alloy


The Lumen, a physical 3D display


Muscle wire plants come to life when you breathe on them

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

  • Two Replies

    Miniaturize #2 and put it in my phone ASAP.