Twist again; Dynamically and reversibly controllable chirality in liquid crystalline elastomer microposts


Photoresponsive liquid crystalline elastomers (LCEs) constitute ideal actuators for soft robots because their light-induced macroscopic shape changes can be harnessed to perform specific articulated motions. Conventional LCEs, however, do not typically exhibit complex modes of bending and twisting necessary to perform sophisticated maneuvers. Here, we model LCE microposts encompassing side-chain mesogens oriented along a magnetically programmed nematic director, and azobenzene cross-linkers, which determine the deformations of illuminated posts. On altering the nematic director orientation from vertical to horizontal, the post’s bending respectively changes from light-seeking to light-avoiding. Moreover, both modeling and subsequent experiments show that with the director tilted at 45°, the initially achiral post reversibly twists into a right- or left-handed chiral structure, controlled by the angle of incident light. We exploit this photoinduced chirality to design “chimera” posts (encompassing two regions with distinct director orientations) that exhibit simultaneous bending and twisting, mimicking motions exhibited by the human musculoskeletal system.

Science Advances