QCA news: smartmodern materials

27th April 2001 at 01:00
A NEW requirement to teach design and technology pupils about the working characteristics and application of modern and smart materials in the key stage 3 programme of study will enable pupils study up-to-date developments in materials. Guidance can be found in the KS3 scheme of work, where unit 9A "Selecting Materials" encourages pupils to explore whether new materials are appropriate and an improvement, and the issues surrounding their use.

What is a smartmodern material? Modern materials are developed through the invention of new or improved processes, for example, as a result of manufactured materialsingredients or human intervention, and not through naturally occurring changes. They are altered to perform a particular function.

Smart materials respond to differences in temperature or light and change in some way. They are called smart because they sense conditions in their environment and respond to those conditions. Smart materials appear to "think" and some are said to have a "memory" because they can revert back to their original state. The term "smart" can be ambiguous, as in some cases it is difficult to distinguish between "modern" and "smart".

Food smart and modern materials Many naturally occurring food ingredients are smart in that they respond to heat and light and some changes are reversible.

Such working characteristics are already frequently exploited in food technology: modified starches respond to differences in temperatures, for example, swelling (thickening) in hot water or when heated, but return to a flow when cool. This working characteristic is used in pizza toppings. The topping thickens when heated in the oven and so does not run off the base, but on slight cooling the topping is runny again ready for eating.

Modern food materials incude genetically modified foods, anti-oxidants, modified enzymes, probiotic yoghurts and drinks, TVP, Quorn and Tofu.

Smartmodern textiles New textiles are used in functional sportswear, medical and safetywear and fashion clothing. For example:

* smart fabrics that create a sense of well-being because they have anti-stress or calm-inducing properties * textiles for medical uses, such as fabrics encapsulated with antiseptics * Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal fabrics for clothing, linens, towels and carpets * SOFTSWITCH technology combines composite and conductive textile technology to produce wearable electronic fabrics.

Resistant materials and systems and control- smartmodern materials Examples include conductive polymers, colour-changing liquid crystals (thermochromic film), optically embossed film (lenticular sheet), shape memory alloys (smart wire and smart springs), and motion control gels (smart grease).

Although there is a fine dividing line between modern and smart materials, several increasingly common materials, such as shape memory alloys (SMA), exhibit behaviour characterised by intelligent responses. SMAs can be conditioned to change structure (and shape) at pre-determined temperatures producing desirable shape changes in garments interwoven with SMA wire.

A full version of the guidance is available at: www.qca.org.ukcasubjectsdant- Useful resources: NADCAT (textiles), tel: 01623 440088. Web: www.nadcat.co.uk Technology Enhancement Project, tel: 024 7652 3687. Web: www.tep.org.uk More websites: www.designcouncil.org.uk www.foodforum.org.uk www.softswitch.co.uk


Louise Davies is QCA principal officer, design and technology and Ian Williams is QCA principal subject officer, design and technology

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