image courtesy of David Hilowitz

Smart materials are those that respond to external stimuli such as changes in temperature, pressure and movement.

Getting celebrities involved is sure to give momentum to the use of the technology, and the recent appearance of the singer Katy Perry in a light-up dress at a recent awards ceremony will do wonders for the sale of wearable technology.
The company that designed Katy’s dress have designed other pieces of clothing that incorporate smart materials.
One of the most interesting is the Hug Shirt, which enables people to give hugs over long distances.  The sender hugs themselves, which simulates pressure sensors in the shirt.  The pressure is converted into data which is sent via their mobile phone to the hug shirt-wearing receiver’s phone.  The data is then converted back again which gives the receiver a replication of the original hug.  This is also a novel application of radiowaves!
Another, the kinetic dress, converts the movement of the wearer into patterns of light, which vary in brightness depending on the wearer’s speed.
These examples are fun, but in the future there could be serious applications of these materials.  What about wearing underpants that contain electrochemical sensors that can detect stress levels or alcohol levels in the body, or a data-logging shirt for baseball players that can allow their coach to see where their technique can be improved?
Looking at these garments in GCSE lessons is an engaging way of looking at some of the applications of smart materials.  More able students could be shown a range of materials and asked to invent their own clothes that incorporate the technology.
You could also use Katy’s dress as an example of the lengths that we humans go to in order to create a look that jellyfish have been modelling for millions of years…

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