Say it with artificial blooming flowers from morphing material

Have you ever been in a restaurant and felt at the plant on the table to see if it was real or made from plastic? From now on you might be even more easily fooled, as scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a new morphing material. With this, they made a flower that slowly opens and blooms, just like the real thing.

The difference with other morphing materials is that this material does not need to be triggered by any outside source, such as heat or light.

The material consists of polymer sheets that can change shape over time. Based on a polymer gel that has the consistency of human cartilage, the morphing material is built from two types of chemical bonds: strong covalent bonds and a much larger proportion of weak hydrogen bonds. When the sheet is folded, the elastic energy is stored in the strong bonds of the material. However, because of the weak bonds, the process of turning back to the original shaped is slowed down. Varying the number, strength and location of the bonds can control the amount of time it takes to turn back to its original shape, like a timer. The accuracy with which the material morphs can be programmed within minutes.

The flower, designed by PhD-student Qiaoxi Li, starts as a bud and has been programmed to open first the red outer leaves, then the middle pink ones and finally the inner orange ones, imitating a normal, living flower. The material is painted; the original colour is white.

No matter how pretty and lifelike the flower, the material has much more promising qualities. Sergei Sheiko, a professor of polymer chemistry who led the research, suggests that the material could be used to make medical implants that adopt the right shape once they had been inserted into the body, or capsules that deliver medicine at a set time.

Or it can be a bouquet of flowers that blooms when you hand it to someone. If you plan it right, that is.