Polymers are a class of chemicals, which definitely can be called the crown of evolution of the inanimate world. These high molecular weight compounds have an extraordinary variety in the structure of polymer chains that gives them a set of diverse properties. That makes them widely used in different fields: clothes, household appliances, computers, and cars - all this and many other things largely consist of the materials obtained by the synthesis of oil products.

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Currently, the synthetic polymers are actively applied as construction materials to manufacture various products, equipment for general and special purposes, and the technology of their production is constantly being improved.

The dynamic development of polymer material science lead to discovering a polymer unique property giving the right to classify them as “smart” materials. The property describes the ability to “memorize” a temporary form and restore the original form because of external influences; therefore, it is called the shape memory effect (SME).

Using such materials opens up new horizons for humankind in various fields of science and technology. In medicine, specialists consider them as tools for minimally invasive surgery, targeted delivery of drugs, and the material to manufacture “smart” prostheses. In aerospace field, SME polymer can be used to produce elements of transformable structures with the possibility of compact packaging in a temporary (transportation) form on Earth and the restoration of the original (operation) form in outer space when heated.

At the Reshetnev University, the researchers have been developing ground and space structures made of polymer composite materials. However, every day is changing the requirements to such structures; meeting the requirements is impossible using only finished materials. In this regard, interest arose in the development of new materials to produce up-to-date structures, including those with SME. This resulted in creating the scientific laboratory “Smart Materials and Structures”; the laboratory won the competition of the RF Ministry of Science and Higher Education in 2020.

Now the new laboratory based on the Spacecraft and Systems Resource Sharing Center provides large-scale studies of polymer and composite SME materials under the supervision of associate scientist Taisia Aleksandrovna Shalygina. It is planned to develop a shape memory effect material with multiple forms and with the possibility of a non-contact initiation method. Creating multi-level transformations of the material will give a chance to deal with some challenges of the current science and technology.

Another promising area of the research is to develop a material with reversible shape memory effect. When changing external influences, such material is capable of reversibly changing its shape without prior programming. Therefore, it is possible to expand the horizons of the practical application of SME polymers, for example, using them to create an airplane wing with a changing geometry or micro- and -macromechanical systems for various purposes.

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In 2019, Taisia Shalygina won a prestigious grant by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research to realize project № 19-33-90166 “Investigating interfacial phenomena at the polymer-polymer and polymer-filler interfaces in the composite material structure having a triple shape memory effect and modified with silicon carbide particles”. The project was one of the best basic research projects proposed by the young post-graduate researchers.

The scientific laboratory "Smart Materials and Structures" is the only scientific laboratory in Krasnoyarsk, whose employees have the opportunity to study SME polymers comprehensively. In Russia there are laboratories of the same approach in Kazan and Moscow, there are also similar laboratories in Japan, China, the USA, and Germany. A. Lendlein from the Faculty of Science, the Institute for Biochemistry and Biology at the University of Potsdam, H. Tobushi from the Technological Institute (Aichi) in Japan, Kaojin Wang from the South China University of Technology supervise the research teams studying shape memory effect. Two years ago, the Reshetnev University opened project-oriented Master's program “Technology to manufacture products from polymer composite materials”. Due to this, the Krasnoyarsk and other students have a unique opportunity to do their research using the up-to-date equipment. The Master students will be able to develop their research papers demonstrating serious scientific and practical outcomes based on the experiment results.

Further, Master students will reach a fundamentally new world level of research due to their work. Currently, every student of the Reshetnev University obtains a real chance to study the polymer material science.

The Hero of Russia, pilot-cosmonaut Alexander Ivanovich Lazutkin pointed out the significance of the shape memory polymers for space exploration: “Since the first polymers were synthesized, researchers have been heavily reliant on them. Further, they really could have substituted the majority of traditional materials. Polymers and polymer composites have been advancing until the current moment. Discovering the polymer shape memory effect has given the perspectives for the challenges of developing lightweight transformable structures for the space exploration purpose. Space exploration based on smart composites is a new reality”.

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