Liquid-crystal elastomers—which contain heat-responsive liquid-crystal molecules embedded in a stretchy polymer—could one day be used to make soft robots and biomedical devices. Typically, researchers program particular shapes into this type of material by controlling the liquid crystals’ orientation; when cool, the liquid crystals hold the material in the desired shape, and when heated, the material relaxes. To do this, researchers perform complicated calculations to determine what crystal orientation would produce a specific shape. Now, Rice University researchers have instead harnessed an existing two-step polymerization reaction to program complex, reversible shapes, such as flowers or faces, into the material. The process requires no calculations, only molding and curing the material (Soft Matter 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8sm02174k).
Music: “Lobby Time” by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under CC BY 3.0.