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Basic Information

Nitinol is an alloy of nickel and titanium with two very interesting and related properties:

  • Superelasticity - when bent or flexed, it tends to spring back into shape
  • Shape Memory - if you do bend it enough to deform it, it will return to its original shape if you heat it up.

Different proportions of nickel to titanium will change how springy it is, and at what temperature it returns to its original shape. It kinda looks like magic when someone takes a crumpled piece of metal, holds their cigarette lighter on it for a few seconds, and it pops back into its original shape.

Nitinol was first discovered in 1959, but it was several decades before the manufacturing process became affordable enough for it to start making it into commercial use. NASA plans to use it for wire-mesh wheels on future Mars rovers, which will reduce the weight of the probes and yet still allow for easy automated repairs in the field.


1. Video: Verge Science via Youtube - lots of great visual examples of Nitinol returning to shape on command

Game and Story Use

  • Lots of cool technology implications and implementations.
    • Self-repairing crumple zones to absorb impact,
    • self-coiling springs or self-winding steampunk clocks,
    • stents that expand inside arteries after insertion,
    • patches and plugs that expand to fill holes and make an airtight seal,
    • collapsible emergency shelters that "inflate" themselves,
    • lightweight "honeycomb" structures that you can reform easily if they collapse under normal wear and tear,
    • etc.
  • A useful "magic trick" for a Connecticut Yankee or castaway (in time or space) trying to impress the locals.
    • I wreck this magic thingamabob, but then magically command it to reform with the application of my torch.
    • If a piece of it gets left behind when you exit, it may inspire a cargo cult situation.
  • Could make for an interesting out-of-place artifact.
    • A fire at an archaeological dig could shock everyone when a bunch of beaten up old artifacts straighten up and restore themselves.
    • An object left by precursors may have been beaten and deformed into a tool or idol by successive civilizations, but returns to its original shape and function under the right conditions.
  • The old "memory metal" of sci-fi: make a tool, like a knife, lockpick or similar, crush it into another shape to pass inspection. Then warm it up and allow it to pop back into shape.
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