Shape memory materials undergo physical conformation changes when exposed to an external stimulus, such as a change in temperature. Such materials have a permanent shape, but can be reshaped above a critical temperature and fixed into a temporary shape when cooled under stress to below the critical temperature. When reheated above the critical temperature (Tc, also sometimes called the triggering or switching temperature), the materials revert to the permanent shape.

The current innovation involves a chemically treated (sulfonated, carboxylated, phosphonated, or other polar function group), high-temperature, semicrystalline thermoplastic poly(ether ether ketone) (Tg ≈140 °C, Tm = 340 °C) mix containing organometallic complexes (Zn++, Li+, or other metal, ammonium, or phosphonium salts), or high-temperature ionic liquids (e.g. hexafluorosilicate salt with 1-propyl-3-methyl imidazolium, Tm = 210 °C) to form a network where dipolar or ionic interactions between the polymer and the low-molecular-weight or inorganic compound forms a complex that provides a physical crosslink. Hereafter, these compounds will be referred to as “additives.” The polymer is semicrystalline, and the high-meltpoint crystals provide a temporary crosslink that acts as a permanent crosslink just so long as the melting temperature is not exceeded. In this example case, the melting point is ≈340 °C, and the shape memory critical temperature is between 150 and 250 °C. PEEK is an engineering thermoplastic with a high Young’s modulus, nominally 3.6 GPa.

An important aspect of the invention is the control of the PEEK functionalization (in this example, the sulfonation degree), and the thermal properties (i.e. melting point) of the additive, which determines the switching temperature. Because the compound is thermoplastic, it can be formed into the “permanent” shape by conventional plastics processing operations. In addition, the compound may be covalently crosslinked after forming the permanent shape by S-PEEK by applying ionizing radiation (λ radiation, neutrons), or by chemical crosslinking to form a covalent permanent network.

With respect to other shape memory polymers, this invention is novel in that it describes the use of a thermoplastic composition that can be thermally molded or solution-cast into complex “permanent” shapes, and then reheated or redissolved and recast from solution to prepare another shape. It is also unique in that the shape memory behavior is provided by a non-polymer additive.

This work was done by Mitra Yoonessi of Glenn Research Center and Robert A. Weiss of the University of Akron.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

NASA Glenn Research Center
Innovative Partnerships Office
Attn: Steven Fedor
Mail Stop 4–8
21000 Brookpark Road
Ohio 44135.