The stimuli-responsive polymers or aptly called smart polymers are materials which are sensitive to various factors like temperature, humidity, pH, electric and magnetic field. The responses generated by these materials vary from conductivity, permeability, transparency and so on. The unique properties of these smart materials make them applicable in high end applications of engineering and healthcare.
The Smart Polymers are classified into several types depending upon their properties and response towards external stimuli. The several types of smart polymers observed today are:
- Temperature responsive polymers
- pH responsive polymers
- Photo responsive polymers
- Magnetically responsive polymer gels and elastomers
- Enzyme-responsive polymers
- Shape memory polymers
- Smart polymer hydrogels
- Self-healing polymer systems
Smart Polymers are relevantly used in bio-medicine specifically targeted drug delivery. Some other cases where they are used in biomedical area are self-adaptive wound dressings where humidity-sensitive polymers are employed which automatically regulate moisture balance in and around the wound.
Other than the smart polymer carriers employed for drug delivery applications, smart polymer substrates can also be used in tissue engineering applications. Smart Polymers have also been employed in medical devices which are used in surgery and diagnosis. Other than medicine, smart polymers have found their applications in biotechnology, food industry and several other sectors too.
Most common application of the smart materials in biotechnology sector is bio separations and immunoassays. In different sectors we can find them employed for optical data storage, food packaging and textile applications. Futuristic applications of these smart polymers can be seen in environmental biotechnology for irrigation systems. Though the research and future remains open for these materials so does the problems on degradation, toxicity etc.