Engineers Develop Material That Uses Light and Heat To Change Shape


University of Colorado Boulder engineers have created a new type of material that needs light or temperature stimuli to change its shape. A square can morph and fit into a round hole and then transform back into a square – check out the video at the end of the article.

This shape-shifting material was described on 24 August in the journal Science Advances, and its creators explain that the applications are infinite: the material would be used in manufacturing, robotics, artificial muscles and biomedical devices.

The senior author of the study and a Distinguished Professor in the university’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE), Christopher Bowman explains how the material reacts:

“The ability to form materials that can repeatedly oscillate back and forth between two independent shapes by exposing them to light will open up a wide range of new applications and approaches to areas such as additive manufacturing, robotics and biomaterials.”

In previous research, engineers have created objects that would only alter their sizes, shape or texture with programmable stimuli, but there were limitations when it came to size or the reversal to initial shape of the object.

This material achieves a two-way transformation on a macroscopic level using a similar technology used in today’s TV displays: liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs). The LCEs have a unique molecular arrangement that reacts to heat and light.

Optimizing and Exploring Technological Possibilities

A post-doctoral researcher in CHBE, Matthew McBride is the lead author of the new study, concluding that their approach is “an elegant foundational system for transforming an object’s properties,” and that they will “continue optimizing and exploring the possibilities of this technology.”

The material’s possibilities of changing its shape and then change back to the initial state show that it can be used in a wide range of applications, and biomedical devices would surely benefit from it because it would make them more flexible and adaptable than before.

If you want to see the material in action, click here to get to the University of Colorado Boulder’s video posted on their Vimeo page.


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