Controlling Liquid Crystal Orientations for Programmable Anisotropic Transformations in Cellular Microstructures


Geometric reconfigurations in cellular structures have recently been exploited to realize adaptive materials with applications in mechanics, optics, and electronics. However, the achievable symmetry breakings and corresponding types of deformation and related functionalities have remained rather limited, mostly due to the fact that the macroscopic geometry of the structures is generally co-aligned with the molecular anisotropy of the constituent material. To address this limitation, cellular microstructures are fabricated out of liquid crystalline elastomers (LCEs) with an arbitrary, user-defined liquid crystal (LC) mesogen orientation encrypted by a weak magnetic field. This platform enables anisotropy to be programmed independently at the molecular and structural levels and the realization of unprecedented director-determined symmetry breakings in cellular materials, which are demonstrated by both finite element analyses and experiments. It is illustrated that the resulting mechanical reconfigurations can be harnessed to program microcellular materials with switchable and direction-dependent frictional properties and further exploit ”area-specific” deformation patterns to locally modulate transmitted light and precisely guide object movement. As such, the work provides a clear route to decouple anisotropy at the materials level from the directionality of the macroscopic cellular structure, which may lead to a new generation of smart and adaptive materials and devices.

Advanced Materials