Material assembly from collective action of shape-changing polymers. Academic Article uri icon


  • Some animals form transient, responsive and solid-like ensembles through dynamic structural interactions. These ensembles demonstrate emergent responses such as spontaneous self-assembly, which are difficult to achieve in synthetic soft matter. Here we use shape-morphing units comprising responsive polymers to create solids that self-assemble, modulate their volume and disassemble on demand. The ensemble is composed of a responsive hydrogel, liquid crystal elastomer or semicrystalline polymer ribbons that reversibly bend or twist. The dispersions of these ribbons mechanically interlock, inducing reversible aggregation. The aggregated liquid crystal elastomer ribbons have a 12-fold increase in the yield stress compared with cooled dispersion and contract by 34% on heating. Ribbon type, concentration and shape dictate the aggregation and govern the global mechanical properties of the solid that forms. Coating liquid crystal elastomer ribbons with a liquid metal begets photoresponsive and electrically conductive aggregates, whereas seeding cells on hydrogel ribbons enables self-assembling three-dimensional scaffolds, providing a versatile platform for the design of dynamic materials.

published proceedings

  • Nat Mater

altmetric score

  • 62.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Abdelrahman, M. K., Wagner, R. J., Kalairaj, M. S., Zadan, M., Kim, M. H., Jang, L. K., ... Ware, T. H.

citation count

  • 1

publication date

  • January 2024