Covalent-supramolecular hybrid polymers as muscle-inspired anisotropic actuators.
ABSTRACT: Skeletal muscle provides inspiration on how to achieve reversible, macroscopic, anisotropic motion in soft materials. Here we report on the bottom-up design of macroscopic tubes that exhibit anisotropic actuation driven by a thermal stimulus. The tube is built from a hydrogel in which extremely long supramolecular nanofibers are aligned using weak shear forces, followed by radial growth of thermoresponsive polymers from their surfaces. The hierarchically ordered tube exhibits reversible anisotropic actuation with changes in temperature, with much greater contraction perpendicular to the direction of nanofiber alignment. We identify two critical factors for the anisotropic actuation, macroscopic alignment of the supramolecular scaffold and its covalent bonding to polymer chains. Using finite element analysis and molecular calculations, we conclude polymer chain confinement and mechanical reinforcement by rigid supramolecular nanofibers are responsible for the anisotropic actuation. The work reported suggests strategies to create soft active matter with molecularly encoded capacity to perform complex tasks.
Project description:Three-dimensional organized unidirectionally aligned and responsive supramolecular structures have much potential in adaptive materials ranging from biomedical components to soft actuator systems. However, to control the supramolecular structure of these stimuli responsive, for example photoactive, materials and control their actuation remains a major challenge. Toward the design of "artificial muscles", herein, we demonstrate an approach that allows hierarchical control of the supramolecular structure, and as a consequence its photoactuation function, by electrostatic interaction between motor amphiphiles (MA) and counterions. Detailed insight into the effect of various ions on structural parameters for self-assembly from nano- to micrometer scale in water including nanofiber formation and nanofiber aggregation as well as the packing structure, degree of alignment, and actuation speed of the macroscopic MA strings prepared from various metal chlorides solution, as determined by electronic microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and actuation speed measurements, is presented. Macroscopic MA strings prepared from calcium and magnesium ions provide a high degree of alignment and fast response photoactuation. By the selection of metal ions and chain length of MAs, the macroscopic MA string structure and function can be controlled, demonstrating the potential of generating multiple photoresponsive supramolecular systems from an identical molecular structure.
Project description:Anisotropy or alignment is a critical feature of functional soft materials in living organisms, but it remains a challenge for spontaneously generating anisotropic gel materials. Here we report a molecular design that increases intermolecular aromatic-aromatic interactions of hydrogelators during enzymatic hydrogelation for spontaneously forming an anisotropic hydrogel. This process, relying on both aromatic-aromatic interactions and enzyme catalysis, results in spontaneously aligned supramolecular nanofibers as the matrices of a monodomain hydrogel that exhibits significant birefringence. This work, as the first example of monodomain hydrogels formed via an enzymatic reaction, illustrates a new biomimetic approach for generating aligned anisotropic soft materials.
Project description:While most of the studies on molecular machines have been performed in solution, interfacing these supramolecular systems with solid-state nanostructures and materials is very important in view of their utilization in sensing components working by chemical and photonic actuation. Host polymeric materials, and particularly polymer nanofibers, enable the manipulation of the functional molecules constituting molecular machines and provide a way to induce and control the supramolecular organization. Here, we present electrospun nanocomposites embedding a self-assembling rotaxane-type system that is responsive to both optical (UV-vis light) and chemical (acid/base) stimuli. The system includes a molecular axle comprised of a dibenzylammonium recognition site and two azobenzene end groups and a dibenzocrown-8 molecular ring. The dethreading and rethreading of the molecular components in nanofibers induced by exposure to base and acid vapors, as well as the photoisomerization of the azobenzene end groups, occur in a similar manner to what observed in solution. Importantly, however, the nanoscale mechanical function following external chemical stimuli induces a measurable variation of the macroscopic mechanical properties of nanofibers aligned in arrays, whose Young's modulus is significantly enhanced upon dethreading of the axles from the rings. These composite nanosystems show therefore great potential for application in chemical sensors, photonic actuators, and environmentally responsive materials.
Project description:Soft robots hold promise for well-matched interactions with delicate objects, humans and unstructured environments owing to their intrinsic material compliance. Movement and stiffness modulation, which is challenging yet needed for an effective demonstration, can be devised by drawing inspiration from plants. Plants use a coordinated and reversible modulation of intracellular turgor (pressure) to tune their stiffness and achieve macroscopic movements. Plant-inspired osmotic actuation was recently proposed, yet reversibility is still an open issue hampering its implementation, also in soft robotics. Here we show a reversible osmotic actuation strategy based on the electrosorption of ions on flexible porous carbon electrodes driven at low input voltages (1.3?V). We demonstrate reversible stiffening (~5-fold increase) and actuation (~500?deg rotation) of a tendril-like soft robot (diameter ~1?mm). Our approach highlights the potential of plant-inspired technologies for developing soft robots based on biocompatible materials and safe voltages making them appealing for prospective applications.
Project description:The need to support the two most basic functions [three-dimensional (3D)-shaped support and actuation] independently for a typical robot demands that at least two components should be used in its construction. Therefore, component assembly is unavoidable despite the ultimate dream of creating assembly-free robots. We devise a strategy that uses a programmable crystalline shape memory polymer with thermo- and photo-reversible bonds to create a single-component robot. The global 3D-shaped structural support is fabricated via a plasticity-based origami technique enabled by the thermo-reversible bonds. More critically, precisely controlled localized actuation can be programmed into the 3D origami via spatially defined reversible shape memory using the photo-reversible bonds. The overall result is that a polymer thin film can be programmed into various soft robots including a 3D crane and an elephant. Besides reversible shape memory, other types of actuation mechanisms can be potentially introduced via a similar principle. Thus, our strategy represents a general method to create single-component soft robots.
Project description:The response of soft actuators made of stimuli-responsive materials can be phenomenologically described by a stimulus-deformation curve, depicting the controllability and sensitivity of the actuator system. Manipulating such stimulus-deformation curve allows fabricating soft microrobots with reconfigurable actuation behavior, which is not easily achievable using conventional materials. Here, we report a light-driven actuator based on a liquid crystal polymer network containing diarylethene (DAE) photoswitches as cross-links, in which the stimulus-deformation curve under visible-light illumination is tuned with UV light. The tuning is brought about by the reversible electrocyclization of the DAE units. Because of the excellent thermal stability of the visible-absorbing closed-form DAEs, the absorbance of the actuator can be optically fixed to a desired value, which in turn dictates the efficiency of photothermally induced deformation. We employ the controllability in devising a logical AND gate with macroscopic output, i.e., an actuator that bends negligibly under UV or visible light irradiation, but with profound shape change when addressed to both simultaneously. The results provide design tools for reconfigurable microrobotics and polymer-based logic gating.
Project description:Stimuli-responsive supramolecular assemblies controlling macroscopic transformations with high structural fluidity, i.e., foam properties, have attractive prospects for applications in soft materials ranging from biomedical systems to industrial processes, e.g., textile coloring. However, identifying the key processes for the amplification of molecular motion to a macroscopic level response is of fundamental importance for exerting the full potential of macroscopic structural transformations by external stimuli. Herein, we demonstrate the control of dynamic supramolecular assemblies in aqueous media and as a consequence their macroscopic foam properties, e.g., foamability and foam stability, by large geometrical transformations of dual light/heat stimuli-responsive molecular motor amphiphiles. Detailed insight into the reversible photoisomerization and thermal helix inversion at the molecular level, supramolecular assembly transformations at the microscopic level, and the stimuli-responsive foam properties at the macroscopic level, as determined by UV-vis absorption and NMR spectroscopies, electron microscopy, and foamability and in situ surface tension measurements, is presented. By selective use of external stimuli, e.g., light or heat, multiple states and properties of macroscopic foams can be controlled with very dilute aqueous solutions of the motor amphiphiles (0.2 weight%), demonstrating the potential of multiple stimuli-responsive supramolecular systems based on an identical molecular amphiphile and providing opportunities for future soft materials.
Project description:Next-generation molecular devices and machines demand the integration of molecular switches into hierarchical assemblies to amplify the response of the system from the molecular level to the meso- or macro-scale. Here, we demonstrate that multi-azobenzene oligomers can assemble to form robust supramolecular nanofibers in which they can be switched repeatedly between the E- and Z-configuration. While in isolated oligomers the azobenzene units undergo reversible photoisomerization independently, in the nanofibers they are coupled via intermolecular interactions and switch cooperatively as evidenced by unusual thermal and kinetic behavior. We find that the photoisomerization rate from the Z-isomer to the E-isomer depends on the fraction of Z-azobenzene in the nanofibers, and is increased by more than a factor of 4 in Z-rich fibers when compared to E-rich fibers. This demonstrates the great potential of coupling individual photochromic units for increasing their quantum efficiency in the solid state with potential relevance for actuation and sensing.
Project description:Control over structural transformations in supramolecular entities by external stimuli is critical for the development of adaptable and functional soft materials. Herein, we have designed and synthesized a dipyridyl donor containing a central Z-configured stiff-stilbene unit that self-assembles in the presence of two 180° di-Pt(II) acceptors to produce size-controllable discrete organoplatinum(II) metallacycles with high efficiency by means of the directional-bonding approach. These discrete metallacycles undergo transformation into extended metallosupramolecular polymers upon the conformational switching of the dipyridyl ligand from Z-configured (0°) to E-configured (180°) when photoirradiated. This transformation is accompanied by interesting morphological changes at nanoscopic length scales. The discrete metallacycles aggregate to spherical nanoparticles that evolve into long nanofibers upon polymer formation. These fibers can be reversibly converted to cyclic oligomers by changing the wavelength of irradiation, which reintroduces Z-configured building blocks owing to the reversible nature of stiff-stilbene photoisomerization. The design strategy defined here represents a novel self-assembly pathway to deliver advanced supramolecular assemblies by means of photocontrol.