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Spatially and Reversibly Actuating Soft Gel Structure by Harnessing Multimode Elastic Instabilities

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posted on 22.07.2021, 12:03 by Yingzhi Liu, Ansu Sun, Sreepathy Sridhar, Zhenghong Li, Zhuofan Qin, Ji Liu, Xue Chen, Haibao Lu, Ben Zhong Tang, Ben Bin Xu
Autonomous shape transformation is key in developing high-performance soft robotics technology; the search for pronounced actuation mechanisms is an ongoing mission. Here, we present the programmable shape morphing of a three-dimensional (3D) curved gel structure by harnessing multimode mechanical instabilities during free swelling. First of all, the coupling of buckling and creasing occurs at the dedicated region of the gel structure, which is attributed to the edge and surface instabilities resulted from structure-defined spatial nonuniformity of swelling. The subsequent developments of post-buckling morphologies and crease patterns collaboratively drive the structural transformation of the gel part from the “open” state to the “closed” state, thus realizing the function of gripping. By utilizing the multi-stimuli-responsive nature of the hydrogel, we recover the swollen gel structure to its initial state, enabling reproducible and cyclic shape evolution. The described soft gel structure capable of shape transformation brings a variety of advantages, such as easy to fabricate, large strain transformation, efficient actuation, and high strength-to-weight ratio, and is anticipated to provide guidance for future applications in soft robotics, flexible electronics, offshore engineering, and healthcare products.

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