What are programmable materials?

Programmable materials are materials or material compositions, which are structured such that their properties can be specifically controlled and reversibly changed. Complex and locally different functions can be programmed into thesematerials. Depending on the application and situation, the material then adopts different conditions and material properties initiated by external triggers.

Programmable materials introduce a unique potential for new system solutions because they themselves adopt important system functionalities, thus making additional system components such as sensors or actuators redundant.

Contrary to Smart Materials, programmable materials go beyond the mere checking of material properties. For example, if-then relationships can be used to program and control the entire material behavior in a reversible and locally variable manner.

Why programmable materials?


In addition to political and social change, global major issues such as climate change, energy revolution, access to clean water, electric mobility and digitalization require disruptive technological solutions that enable intelligent, efficient and sustainable handling of locally available resources.

Programmable materials have the potential to initiate a paradigm changewhen handling materials because they replace technical systems consisting of many components and materials with a single, locally configured system. They thus allow smaller system sizes and reduce the complexity of the whole system as well as the dependability of large infrastructures.

Even in high-tech areas such as Soft-Robotic, programmable materials can help reduce the increasing susceptibility which comes from complex miniaturization.

In addition to the higher integration of functions and the associated efficiency of resources, in the future programmable materials will also allow entirely new functionalities, such as modular, application-oriented geometries, which until now could not be implemented.

Programmable materials offer particularly high potential where high effectiveness or comfort, low space requirement or high individuality is required. The cluster expects promising solutions with programmable materials in the following branches:


  • Resource and energy efficiency (energy harvesting, solar technology, cooling, etc.)
  • Environmental technologies (effective filter systems, indicator systems, etc.)
  • Miniaturization of technologies (integration of functions, high functional density)
  • Better resilience (adaptability, self-recovery, few moving parts)
  • Medical and health technology (diagnostics, therapy, implants, etc.)

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