A new material developed by National Science Foundation-funded engineers can transform into complex, pre-programmed shapes via light and temperature stimuli, allowing a literal square peg to morph and fit into a round hole before fully reverting to its original form. The controllable shape-shifting material could have broad applications for manufacturing, robotics, biomedical devices and artificial muscles. Previous efforts have used a variety of physical mechanisms to alter an object’s size, shape or texture with programmable stimuli. However, such materials have historically been limited in size or extent and the object state changes have proven difficult to fully reverse. The new material achieves readily programmable two-way transformations on a macroscopic level by using liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), the same technology underlying modern television displays. The unique molecular arrangement of LCEs make them susceptible to dynamic change via heat and light.
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