The primary aim of the Smart Materials Sector of the Materials Community is to stimulate UK wealth creation and economic growth through the widespread use of smart materials. To achieve this aim, UK businesses will be supported via the development and implementation of a variety of information and outreach based activties, building on the existing Materials Community.
What do we mean by "Smart"
An obvious way to start an overview of Smart Materials should be to provide a definition of Smart Materials. However, beyond the completely accurate but not too useful, "a material that displays Smart behaviour" that is easier said than accomplished.
To define a Smart material we really need to understand what is meant by Smart behaviour and then, by means of some examples, to develop our definition.
Smart behaviour occurs when a material can sense some stimulus from its environment and react to it in a useful, reliable, reproducible and usually reversible manner. A really Smart material will use its reaction to the external stimulus to initiate or actuate an active response, e.g. with an active control system.
Whilst this is perhaps a more useful definition examples from familiar items would help at this point.
There are some materials that are designed to change their colour at a particular temperature. They find uses in bath plugs that show when the bath water is too hot, children's feeding spoons and coffee or tea mugs. Gromit's nose on the PG Tips mug is a very recent example. Technically this is described as "thermochromic" behaviour where a thermal stimulus causes a useful optical response.
Smart behaviour is therefore the reaction of a material to some change in its environment, no material can be Smart in isolation, it must be a part of a structure or system such as the bath plug, the spoon or the coffee mug.
You will find lots of information on many different types of smart materials in this site.
TED really gets SMART