Travelling waves on photo-switchable patterned liquid crystal polymer films directed by rotating polarized light†
Nature employs travelling waves to generate propulsion of fluids, cells and organisms. This has inspired the development of responsive material systems based on different external triggers. Especially light-actuation is suitable because of its remote control and scalability, but often complex, moving light sources are required. Here, we developed a method that only requires flood exposure by rotating the linear polarization of light to generate propagating surface waves on azobenzene-modified liquid crystalline polymer films. We built a photomechanical computational model that accounts for the attenuation of polarized light and trans-to-cis isomerization of azobenzene. A non-uniform in-plane distribution of the liquid crystal molecules allows for the generation of travelling surface waves whose amplitude, speed and direction can be controlled through the intensity, rotation direction and rotation speed of the linear polarization of a light source. Our method opens new avenues for motion control based on light-responsive topographical transformations for application in microfluidic lab-on-chip systems and soft robotics.