Animal hairs consisting of α-keratin biopolymers existing broadly in nature may be responsive to water for recovery to the innate shape from their fixed deformation, thus possess smart behavior, namely shape memory effect (SME). In this article, three typical animal hair fibers were first time investigated for their water-stimulated SME, and therefrom to identify the corresponding net-points and switches in their molecular and morphological structures. Experimentally, the SME manifested a good stability of high shape fixation ratio and reasonable recovery rate after many cycles of deformation programming under water stimulation. The effects of hydration on hair lateral size, recovery kinetics, dynamic mechanical behaviors and structural components (crystal, disulfide and hydrogen bonds) were then systematically studied. SME mechanisms were explored based on the variations of structural components in molecular assemblies of such smart fibers. A hybrid structural network model with single-switch and twin-net-points was thereafter proposed to interpret the water-stimulated shape memory mechanism of animal hairs. This original work is expected to provide inspiration for exploring other natural materials to reveal their smart functions and natural laws in animals including human as well as making more remarkable synthetic smart materials.
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