New Morphing Material Discovered
Changing shape can be a very useful ability in many situations, but can also be hard to achieve. After all, most materials will only deform when a force is applied to them, which means a mechanism is needed to apply that force. Researchers at Rice University though have created a composite material that can change its shape when heated.
The composite is made of two layers. One layer is a simple but important polystyrene, and the other is a liquid crystal elastomer (LCE). The elastomer is made of cross-linked polymers that align to an axis called the nematic director. When heated, the LCE will expand or contact along that axis, but because of the polystyrene, the expanding material cannot stay flat, but bends, wrinkles, or folds the entire material. By controlling the geometry of the polystyrene and the temperature it was applied at, the researchers found they could control the shapes the composite will take.
The ability to have a material change shape based on environmental conditions has potential applications in optics, biology, and medicine. For example, scaffolds and substrates for cells to grow on could be designed to react to different stimuli, and expand or contract as needed.
Source: Rice University