Polarization-driven reversible actuation in a photo-responsive polymer composite

Nat Commun. 2023 Oct 27;14(1):6843. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-42590-y.


Light-responsive polymers and especially amorphous azopolymers with intrinsic anisotropic and polarization-dependent deformation photo-response hold great promises for remotely controlled, tunable devices. However, dynamic control requires reversibility characteristics far beyond what is currently obtainable via plastic deformation of such polymers. Here, we embed azopolymer microparticles in a rubbery elastic matrix at high density. In the resulting composite, cumulative deformations are replaced by reversible shape switching - with two reversible degrees of freedom defined uniquely by the writing beam polarization. We quantify the locally induced strains, including small creeping losses, directly by means of a deformation tracking algorithm acting on microscope images of planar substrates. Further, we introduce free-standing 3D actuators able to smoothly undergo multiple configurational changes, including twisting, roll-in, grabbing-like actuation, and even continuous, pivot-less shape rotation, all dictated by a single wavelength laser beam with controlled polarization.