Washington State University researchers have created a multi-functional smart material that changes shape when subjected to heat or light; the material then assembles and disassembles itself.

Smart materials have a variety of potential applications, including actuators, drug delivery systems, and self-assembling devices. A space satellite's solar panel, for example, could unfold without the need of a battery-powered mechanical device.

The Washington State team combined three "intelligent" capabilities into the one material: shape memory behavior, light-activated movement, and self-healing behavior.

The researchers used a class of long-chain molecules, called liquid crystalline networks (LCNs), which provide order in one direction. The material changes in response to heat, inducing a unique three-way shape shifting behavior.

Groups of atoms that react to polarized light were added. Addtionally, dynamic chemical bonds improved the material’s reprocessing abilities.

The resulting material reacts to light, remembers its shape as it folds and unfolds, and heals itself when damaged. For instance, a razor blade scratch in the material can be fixed by applying ultraviolet light. Users can also pre-program the material’s movements and tailor its properties.


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