"MATERIALS: Darpa funds work on rigid shape-shifting materials"
A new world of applications for shape-changing materials might become available if man-made rigid structures � like an airplane wing, which derives its strength from being "fixed" � could adopt the abilities of rigid structures that can change shape, like a flower stem that twists to follow the sun. Airplane wings imbued with such ability might, for example, self-trim as they sensed the plane's speed, or prepare for an imminent landing by cupping the air as a bird's wing does. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has granted four contracts under its Nastic Materials Program (www.darpa.mil/dso/thrust/matdev/nastic.htm) to explore these possibilities. One includes a 17-month, $2.1 million effort at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va. "We will use the concept of nastic biological transport to create a synthetic template for making shape-changing materials," said Virginia Tech professor Don Leo, leader of a team that will develop a class of materials that mimic plant protein structures.