Programming Adaptive Structures of Stimuli-Responsive Materials via Selective Mechanical and Light Control

photo of Assistant Professor Wang and her Ph.D. students Yi Li holding morphable LCE structures and UCONN letters

Assistant Professor Wang and her Ph.D. student Yi Li holding morphable LCE structures and UCONN letters

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

UConn’s Materials Science and Engineering Department has the pleasure of congratulating Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang on her group’s recent research achievements. The prestigious Journal of Matter has accepted Wang’s research paper titled “Morphing of Stiffness-Heterogeneous Liquid Crystal Elastomers Via Mechanical Training and Locally Controlled Photopolymerization.” The work is in collaboration with Dr. Teng Zhang at Syracuse University.

“Adaptive structures of stimuli-responsive materials that can change their shapes and therefore functionalities are promising for many applications including soft robotics and biomedical devices,” says Wang. “The local control of their material properties and morphing behaviors has long been desired but remain a challenge.” Therefore, Wang has researched ways to control these materials.

Her paper introduces a simple technique to create stiffness-heterogenous morphing structures of liquid crystal elastomers via selective photopolymerization and mechanical programming. Tailoring molecular interactions enables material regions of distinct stiffness, which synergistically determines the morphing behavior of diverse asymmetric three-dimensional (3D) structures and subsequent sequential programming of the structure.

Various demonstrations have been performed, including several biomimetic 3D structures like the flapping of butterfly wings or octopus tentacles bunching up, as well as programmable “UCONN” letters using the new photo- and mechano- induced approach employed by Wang and her team.  Furthermore, the surrounding non-photopolymerized regions can also be programmed, allowing for reshaping as shown in a sequentially shape-morphing “face” that can reveal the “nose”, “mouth”, and “eyes” in a well-controlled manner. “The results represent a significant step toward creating next-generation intelligent materials and structures for engineering applications,” Wang states.

The Journal of Matter is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that encompasses the field of materials science. It only publishes scientific articles that contain significant original research, with less than a 13% acceptance rate. Wang says, “our group is very happy about our work being accepted by the journal because it not only acknowledges the quality of our work, but also its impact to a broad audience.”

Wang joined UConn MSE in 2020 from the University of Missouri, Columbia, where she had been an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Prior to that she received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and completed her post-doctoral research at Northwestern University.

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