Size of liquid metal particles influences actuation properties of a liquid crystal elastomer composite†
Composites of liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) that are electrically conductive have the potential to function as soft “artificial muscle” actuators that can be reversibly stimulated with electrical Joule-heating. Conductivity can be achieved by embedding the LCE with droplets of an alloy of gallium and indium that is liquid at room temperature. These soft artificial muscles are capable of >50% reversible actuation with an applied load. The key to actuation at high loadings of liquid metal (LM) is that the droplets deform with the surrounding matrix. By controlling the size of LM droplets through simple processing techniques, we show that the actuator properties of the LM–LCE muscle can be tuned. For example, composites with smaller liquid metal particles (ca. 10 μm or less) are stiffer than those with larger liquid metal particles (ca. >100 μm) and are capable of greater force output. However, smaller particles reduce actuation strain and composites with large particles exhibit significantly greater stroke length. Such tunability in actuation properties permits the fabrication of specialized soft artificial muscles, where processing of the composite controls actuation strain and actuation force.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Liquid Composites