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Research Highlight (See all of our publications)

Universal Inverse Design of Surfaces with Thin Nematic Elastomer Sheets

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 115 (2018) 7206, by Hillel Aharoni, Yu Xia, Xinyue Zhang, Randall D. Kamien, and Shu Yang

Programmable shape-shifting materials can take different physical forms to achieve multifunctionality in a dynamic and controllable manner. Although morphing a shape from 2D to 3D via programmed inhomogeneous local deformations has been demonstrated in various ways, the inverse problem -- finding how to program a sheet in order for it to take an arbitrary desired 3D shape -- is much harder yet critical to realize specific functions. Here, we address this inverse problem in thin liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) sheets, where the shape is preprogrammed by precise and local control of the molecular orientation of the liquid crystal monomers. We show how blueprints for arbitrary surface geometries can be generated using approximate numerical methods and how local extrinsic curvatures can be generated to assist in properly converting these geometries into shapes. Backed by faithfully alignable and rapidly lockable LCE chemistry, we precisely embed our designs in LCE sheets using advanced top-down microfabrication techniques. We thus successfully produce flat sheets that, upon thermal activation, take an arbitrary desired shape, such as a face. The general design principles presented here for creating an arbitrary 3D shape will allow for exploration of unmet needs in flexible electronics, metamaterials, aerospace and medical devices, and more.

General News (News Archive)

  • Lisa Tran accepts faculty position at Utrecht Univesity. (May 2019)

  • Eric Horsley successfully defends thesis! (January 2019)

  • Hillel Aharoni accepts faculty position at the Weizmann Institute! (November 2018)

  • Helen Ansell awarded Department of Physics and Astronomy's 2018 Werner B. Teutsch Prize, Awarded annually to the graduate student who, by his or her performance in the first year courses, shows the most promise for outstanding achievement in research. (June 2018)

  • Hillel Aharoni wins 2018 Michi Nakata Prize for Early Career Achievements of the International Liquid Crystal Society For his impressive evolution of research on topological and geometric applications in soft matter physics from the pattern formation in smectic liquid crystals, demonstrating how nature uses simple geometric principles for achieving complex functionality. His unusual broad view on the soft matter physics including liquid crystal physics, based on strong mathematical and geometrical skills, will make him grow as a prominent scientist. (June 2018)

  • Ex-postdoc Tom Machon wins 2018 Glenn Brown Dissertation Prize of the International Liquid Crystal Society For his theoretical work on the topology and field states in soft matters, especially in complex liquid crystalline environments, with the goal to predict and determine topological properties of the objects such as field knots and topological defects. Another aspect of his contribution to soft matter, the stability of minimal surfaces, opens up a fascinating new field at the intersection of physics and mathematics. (June 2018)

  • Ex-student Dan Beller accepts faculty position at UC Merced! (June 2018)

  • Lisa Tran successfully defends thesis! (April 2018)

  • Lisa Tran awarded 2018 Elias Burstein Prize "for the exquisite control and deep understanding of complex liquid crystalline materials." (March 2018)

  • Lisa Tran accepts faculty position at Bryn Mawr! (February 2018)

  • Lisa Tran chosen as a Simons Junior Fellow! (December 2017)

  • Lisa Tran takes fifth place in Nikon Small World in Motion Competition! (September 2017)

  • Tom Machon accepts faculty position at University of Bristol! (July 2017)

  • Lisa Tran awarded American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellowship! (May 2017)

  • Ex-postdoc Mohamed Gharbi accepts faculty position at UMass Boston! (May 2017)

  • Former student Carl Modes accepts Research Group Leader Position at MPI Dresden! (April 2017)

  • Max Lavrentovich accepts faculty position at University of Tennessee Knoxville! (April 2017)

  • Lisa Tran receives Dissertation Completion Award from the School of Arts and Sciences! (March 2017)

  • Graduate Student Lisa Tran chosen as GSNP Student Award Finalist. (December 2016)

  • Ex-postdoc Chris Santangelo wins 2017 GSOFT Early Career Award For seminal theoretical contributions exploiting geometry and topology to understand the elasticity of soft materials. (October 2016)

  • Daniel Beller wins 2016 Glenn Brown Dissertation Prize of the International Liquid Crystal Society For his outstanding theoretical work to identify the rich possibilities and outcomes of controlling defects in nematic and smectic liquid crystals under a variety of boundary conditions. The demonstration of the well controlled disclinations and focal conics is expected to open up a novel route for self-assembly in soft-ordered materials . (June 2016)

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