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Reactive 3D Printing of Shape-Programmable Liquid Crystal Elastomer Actuators

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posted on 15.06.2020, 21:06 by Morgan Barnes, Seyed M. Sajadi, Shaan Parekh, Muhammad M. Rahman, Pulickel M. Ajayan, Rafael Verduzco
3D printed, stimuli-responsive materials that reversibly actuate between programmed shapes are promising for applications ranging from biomedical implants to soft robotics. However, current 3D printing of reversible actuators significantly limits the range of possible shapes and/or shape responses because they couple the print path to mathematically determined director profiles to elicit a desired shape change. Here, we report a reactive 3D-printing method that decouples printing and shape-programming steps, enabling a broad range of complex architectures and virtually any arbitrary shape changes. This method involves first printing liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) precursor solution into a catalyst bath, producing complex architectures defined by printing. Shape changes are then programmed through mechanical deformation and UV irradiation. Upon heating and cooling, the LCE reversibly shape-shifts between printed and programmed shapes, respectively. The potential of this method was demonstrated by programming a variety of arbitrary shape changes in a single printed material, producing auxetic LCE structures and symmetry-breaking shape changes in LCE sheets.