Air Force

Shape-programmable materials

Localized control of the magnitude and directionality of a mechanical response in elastomeric materials


Mechanical multi-stability: each individual defect can actuate either up or down, leading to three distinct shapes from a single actuator.

Cross-linked liquid crystal polymers, particularly elastomeric versions referred to as liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), have shown some promise in the field of reconfigurable shapes and surfaces. LCEs are lightly cross-linked, ordered polymers that exhibit reversible shape change in response to a stimulus, such as heat, light, or solvent. To date, commercial uptake of these materials has been limited due to technical issues with defining the alignment of the response and the sensitivity.

Air Force researchers are addressing these issues with novel shape-programmable LCEs and perfecting the method of manufacture for eventual use in many industrial fields. These unique materials have advanced qualities like specific directionality with tunable response, and they can be laid down as a 3-D “Voxel” or a film. Taken further, the materials can contain multiple domains with differing directionality. Applications are diverse and include:

  • Sensing of chemicals, temperature, and motion
  • Micro- and nano-actuation in pumps, valves, and mixers
  • Communications in tunable antennas and lasers
  • Biomedical implants that can be deployed in a small size and expanded inside the body

This US patent 9,902,906 is related to US application number 20160313607.

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