Industrial Electronics

Watch: Shape-Shifting Material Can Morph to and From Original Shape

27 August 2018

A new material created by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder can change shape once and then shift back to the original shape. The shape-shifting material is triggered by light and heat sources. This material opens new doors for manufacturing, robotics, artificial muscles and biomedical devices.

The new shape shifting material can change and then shift back to its original form. (Source: The University of Colorado Boulder)The new shape shifting material can change and then shift back to its original form. (Source: The University of Colorado Boulder)

An example of the abilities of this new material is a square of the material shifting into a round shape to fit into a round hole and, once it has fit through the hole, the shifting back into a square. Talk about fitting a square peg into a round hole.

"The ability to form materials that can repeatedly oscillate back and forth between two independent shapes by exposing them to light will open up a wide range of new applications and approaches to areas such as additive manufacturing, robotics and biomaterials," said Christopher Bowman, senior author of the new study and a Distinguished Professor in CU Boulder's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE).

There have been transformable materials developed in the past. But these materials can only change shape one time. They can’t change back to their original shape as the new material can.

The new, two-way transformations are all possible because of liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs). LCEs are very susceptible to change when exposed to heat and light. To control the shape-shifting, a light-activated trigger was installed in the LCE material. The trigger sets the molecular alignment of the material, allowing it to be triggered at a certain light or heat wavelength. The trigger remains inactive until it is exposed to the right stimuli.

"We view this as an elegant foundational system for transforming an object's properties," said Matthew McBride, lead author of the new study and a post-doctoral researcher in CHBE. "We plan to continue optimizing and exploring the possibilities of this technology."

The paper on this new material was published in the journal Science Advances.

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