Solvent triggered irreversible shape morphism of biopolymer films†
We report the controlled reversible and irreversible folding behavior of a biopolymer film simply by tuning the solvent characteristics. Generally, solvent triggered folding of soft membranes or film is achieved by unfolding. Here, we show that this unfolding behavior can be suppressed/delayed or even completely eliminated by altering the intrinsic nature of the solvent. A reversible folding of biopolymer film is observed in response to water, whereas, an irreversible folding is observed in the presence of an aromatic alcohol (AA) solution of different molar concentrations. The folding and unfolding behavior originates from the coupled deformation–diffusion phenomena. Our study indicates that the presence of an AA influences the relaxation behavior of polymer chains, which in turn affects the release of stored strain energy during folding. Controlling the reversibility as well as the actuation time of the biopolymer film by tuning the solvent is explained in detail at the bulk scale by applying appropriate experimental techniques. The underlying mechanism for the observed phenomena is complemented by performing a simulation study for a single polymer chain at the molecular length scale. Due to the solvent-triggered hygromorphic response, biopolymer films exhibit huge potential as sensors, soft robots, drug delivery agents, morphing medical devices and in biomedical applications. We provide experimental evidence for the weight lifting capacity of permanently folded membranes, amounting to ∼200 times their own weight.