Adaptable liquid crystal elastomers with transesterification-based bond exchange reactions
Adaptable liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) have recently emerged to provide a new and robust method to program monodomain LCE samples. When a constant stress is applied with active bond exchange reactions (BERs), polymer chains and mesogens gradually align in the strain direction. Mesogen alignment is maintained after removing the BER stimulus (e.g. by lowering the temperature) and the programmed LCE samples exhibit free-standing two-way shape switching behavior. Here, a new adaptable main-chain LCE system was developed with thermally induced transesterification BERs. The network combines the conventional properties of LCEs, such as an isotropic phase transition and soft elasticity, with the dynamic features of adaptable network polymers, which are malleable to stress relaxation due to the BERs. Polarized Fourier transform infrared measurements confirmed the alignment of polymer chains and mesogens after strain-induced programming. The influence of the creep stress, temperature, and time on the strain amplitude of two-way shape switching was examined. The LCE network demonstrates an innovative feature of reprogrammability, where the reversible shape-switching memory of programmed LCEs is readily deleted by free-standing heating as random BERs disrupt the mesogen alignment, so LCEs are reprogrammed after returning to the polydomain state. Due to the dynamic nature of the LCE network, it also exhibits a surface welding effect and can be fully dissolved in the organic solvent, which might be utilized for green and sustainable recycling of LCEs.