How a Nitinol metal with a memory will shape our future on mars

How Nitinol memory metal works

This isn’t an illusion or a magic trick although it’s often passed off as one it’s nitinol a bizarre metal known as a shape memory alloy that can be trained to remember any shape.

It’s been slowly gaining popularity over the past few decades but it’s about to be put through one of its biggest tests yet but shape memory is one of those things that i really believe is going to create a paradigm shift for the world.

What is Nitinol memory metal?

Nitinol is an alloy made of nickel and titanium and was first discovered by dr william j buehler in 1959 as he was looking for different alloys to use in the nose cones of missiles but he noticed that nitinol had a very peculiar response to temperature and stress.

How Nitinol memory metal works?

How Nitinol memory metal works

So shape memory alloys are governed by this principle of phase transformation othman benafon works with shape memory alloys at nasa’s glenn research center.

He talked us through what’s going on within the metal basically he says all matter moves through different phases as it heats or cools from solid to liquid to gas.

But some materials can also go through different phases and remain a solid under extreme temperature or pressure the elements are the same but the arrangements of the atoms change.

So you really don’t change the matter from solid to another liquid it’s a solid to solid phase transformation lots of materials have this property but in nitinol the process can be controlled and the key to shape memory alloys is that this phase transformation is reversible.

That is the key that is why we have that name memory so you can heat and cool and go back and forth there’s always a path to go from one state to another to train the nitinol you heat treat it at 500 degrees celsius in your desired shape then quench it in cold water.

Now whenever the alloy’s temperature reaches a threshold known as its transformation temperature it reverts back to the shape you trained it to remember and there’s more to nitinol than just the shape memory effect it can also be super elastic.

If the alloy is created to have a low transformation temperature say below room temperature then it’s already in that phase of its final shape.

So when we try to deform it, it bounces right back by altering the ratio of nickel to titanium scientists can choose from a broad range of transformation temperatures for these reactions to occur that way nitinol can reshape or bend predictably in a variety of applications or environments shortly.

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Scientists and engineers created Nitinol heat engine memory metal

Nitinol alloy

After its discovery scientists and engineers created a nitinol heat engine which rapidly heated and cooled the nitinol wire to drive a pulley system and generate energy soon.

Features of Nitinol memory metal

Nitinol showed up in everything from the f14 fighter jet to flexible eyeglass frames and in the medical field nitinol is widely used in stents that can easily fit inside a blood vessel and then expand to help treat heart disease.

Since shape memory alloys can sense temperature and react to it they could take the place of temperature sensors or even motors they’ve been used to automatically pop open greenhouse windows.

If the temperature rises too high or restrict the flow of hot water and shower heads to prevent scalding in short a lot of people have benefited from shape memory alloys.

Even if they don’t realize it but this is only the beginning according to othman they’re starting to find their true calling in space every inch of a spacecraft is so valuable where these smas become very important they buy you weight they buy you space and they buy you sometimes simplicity of the design.

The metal itself is a sensor the metal itself is the actuator so you can take multiple functions and bundle it into a piece of metal.

More about Nitinol memory metal

Now just by saying that I work in the field of shape memory alloys and every time i say that a piece of metal does these things.

I go this is kind of cool shaped memory alloys are finding lots of work on mars missions like mars global surveyor to pathfinder and more recently on insight to help with everything from deploying antenna to moving solar panel covers one of offman’s colleagues at nasa santa padula has even been working on using shape memory alloys in rover wheels.

How to use Nitinol alloy

They’ve been working for quite a while um and had developed this you know really great technology called spring tire but the one limitation that they always ran into was when they tried to design for high enough load.

They would permanently deform the systems and it would no longer return to its original shape and still act like a nicely rolling wheel but by incorporating shape memory alloys with super elastic properties.

When everybody saw the performance of that they said we need this thing shape memory alloy wheels are slated to debut on the second leg of the mars sample return mission following perseverance’s path and picking up the sample tubes.

It dropped along the way future rovers are going to move in this direction compliant wheels have a lot of advantages over rigid wheels and other architectures.

One of the things that this has shown me is that we have the ability with a lot of these emerging technologies to step back and to reassess entire systems and say if we could wipe that dry erase board clean and just start over with design.

How would we do it differently now that we have this new construct to leverage that’s where we’re going to see this enormous shift in terms of new design a new innovation spurring the future of technology.


In this article, we have talked about how a metal with a memory will shape our future on mars. Nitinol is a alloy made up of nickel and titanium. We have discussed about how this will change the future of human in mars and how it works and how we can use it.

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