Unlike other similar materials, this one developed by engineers from the University of Colorado at Boulder achieves easily programmable bi-directional transformations at the macroscopic level. So it can be transformed into complex and preprogrammed forms through light and temperature stimuli.
For example, a square peg can be metaphorsed and fit into a hole before returning to its original shape.
The new material have been achieved by using liquid crystal elastomers (LCE), the same technology that underlies modern television screens. The unique molecular arrangement of the LCEs makes them susceptible to dynamic change through heat and light. In order to solve this, the researchers installed a light-activated trigger for LCE networks that can establish a desired molecular alignment beforehand by exposing the object to particular wavelengths of light.
The new material offers a wide range of possible applications, especially for future biomedical devices that could be more flexible and adaptable than ever, among others, as explained by the author of the study Christopher Bowman, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE) of CU Boulder:
The ability to form materials that can oscillate repeatedly between two independent forms when exposed to light will open a wide range of new applications and approaches in areas such as additive manufacturing, robotics and biomaterials.