Imagine an automobile coating that changes its structure to adapt to a humid environment or a salt-covered road, better protecting the car from corrosion. Or consider a soldier’s uniform that could alter its own camouflage or more effectively protect against poison gas or shrapnel upon contact.

A trio of university researchers from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the University of Illinois, and the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering is proposing to advance 3D printing one step—or rather, one dimension—further. Thanks to an $855,000 grant from the United States Army Research Office, the group proposes to develop 4D materials that can exhibit behavior that changes over time.

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