Am. Chem. Soc., 2014, 136(1), pp 474–479.
Jean E. Marshall †, Sarah Gallagher ‡, Eugene M. Terentjev ‡, Stoyan K. Smoukov *†
† Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy,University of Cambridge, 27 Charles Babbage Road, Cambridge, CB3 0FS, United Kingdom.
‡ Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, JJ Thomson Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 0HE, United Kingdom.
Monodomain liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) are new materials uniquely suitable for artificial muscles, as they undergo large reversible uniaxial shape changes, with strains of 20–500% and stresses of 10–100 kPa, falling exactly into the dynamic range of a muscle. LCEs exhibit little to no fatigue over thousands of actuation cycles. Their practical use has been limited, however, owing to the difficulty of synthesizing components, achieving consistent alignment during cross-linking across the whole material and often a high nematic-isotropic phase transition temperature. The most widely studied method for LC alignment involves mechanical stretching of the material during one of two cross-linking steps, which makes fabrication difficult to control and lends itself mainly to samples that can be easily grasped (with sizes of the order of mm). In this article, we describe a method of adapting the liquid crystal elastomers synthesis to microscale objects, achieving monodomain alignment with a single cross-linking step, and lowering the cycling temperature. Liquid crystal elastomers precursor droplets are embedded in and then stretched in a polymer matrix at high temperature. Confinement of the uniaxially stretched droplets maintains the alignment achieved during stretching and allows us to eliminate one of the cross-linking steps and the variability associated with it. Adding a comonomer during the polymerization leads to lowering of the nematic-to-isotropic transition temperature (58 °C), significantly expanding the range of potential applications for these micromuscles. We demonstrate reversible thermal switching of the micromuscles in line with the largest strain changes observed for side-chain liquid crystal elastomers and a differential scanning calorimetry characterization of the material phase transitions. The method demonstrates the parallel fabrication of many microscale actuators and is amenable to further scale-up and manufacturing.
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