Photoresponsive Liquid Crystalline Epoxy Networks with Shape Memory Behavior and Dynamic Ester Bonds

Functional polymers are intelligent materials that can respond to a variety of external stimuli. However, these materials have not yet found widespread real world applications because of the difficulties in fabrication and the limited number of functional building blocks that can be incorporated into a material. Here, we demonstrate a simple route to incorporate three functional building blocks (azobenzene chromophores, liquid crystals, and dynamic covalent bonds) into an epoxy-based liquid crystalline network (LCN), in which an azobenzene-based epoxy monomer is polymerized with an aliphatic dicarboxylic acid to create exchangeable ester bonds that can be thermally activated. All three functional building blocks exhibited good compatibility, and the resulting materials exhibits various photomechanical, shape memory, and self-healing properties because of the azobenzene molecules, liquid crystals, and dynamic ester bonds, respectively.