Smart materials and novel actuators: Creative applications in art and design

AWARDING BODY: UWE Early Career Researcher Starter Grant
AWARDED TO: Dr Peter Walters
RESEARCH CO-INVESTIGATORS: Dr Jonathan Rossiter, Senior Lecturer, Department of Engineering Mathematics, University of Bristol; Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, Research Fellow, Bristol Robotics Laboratory

Funded by a UWE Early Career Researcher Starter Grant 2009/10, this research project will investigate the use of “smart” shape-changing materials, together with 3D printing and fabrication technologies, in the creative realization of interactive art and design artifacts. For example, an artwork in a gallery, which changes shape in response to the presence of a gallery visitor, or a product which uses physical movement to communicate information to its owner.

Smart materials exhibit changes in their physical properties, such as size or shape, in response to external stimuli (eg temperature, or electric current). Smart materials to be investigated will include, for example, “shape memory” materials, which can function as actuators i.e. devices that provide movement or changes in shape, for robotics and related applications. Research will also investigate the potential use of a live biological material (microorganisms) within a novel “bio-actuator”. The project aims to demonstrate that smart materials and novel actuators, which are often developed for “space-age” engineering, robotics, and medical applications, are becoming increasingly available and accessible to practitioners within the creative arts. The investigation will explore the technical capabilities of smart materials and novel actuators, and will demonstrate their potential use within art and design applications through the creative production of a series of exemplar artefacts.

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