Direct shape programming of liquid crystal elastomers†
Liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) are shape morphing materials promising for many applications including soft robotics, actuators, and biomedical devices, but current LCE synthesis techniques lack a simple method to program new and arbitrary shape changes. Here, we demonstrate a straightforward method to directly program complex, reversible, non-planar shape changes in nematic LCEs. We utilize a double network synthesis process that results in a competitive double network LCE. By optimizing the crosslink densities of the first and second network we can mechanically program non-planar shapes with strains between 4–100%. This enables us to directly program LCEs using mechanical deformations that impart low or high strains in the LCE including stamping, curling, stretching and embossing methods. The resulting LCEs reversibly shape-shift between the initial and programmed shape. This work widens the potential application of LCEs in biomedical devices, soft-robotics and micro-fluidics where arbitrary and easily programmed shapes are needed.