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Shapeshifting architectures inspired by nature (Image 1)

Transformation of 4-D-printed hydrogel composite structure after submersion in water


A series of images showing the transformation of a 4-D-printed hydrogel composite structure after its submersion in water.

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A team of scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has unveiled 4-D-printed hydrogel composite structures that change shape upon immersion in water.

The team was inspired by nature, specifically, natural structures like plants, which respond and change their form over time according to environmental stimuli. The 4-D-printed hydrogel composites, which mimick a variety of shape changes undergone by plant organs such as tendrils, leaves and flowers in response to environmental stimuli like humidity and temperature, are programmed to contain precise, localized swelling behaviors. The hydrogel composites contain cellulose fibrils that are derived from wood and are similar to the microstructures that enable shape changes in plants.

By aligning cellulose fibrils during printing, the hydrogel composite ink is encoded with anisotropic swelling and stiffness that can be patterned to produce intricate shape changes. The anisotropic nature of the cellulose fibrils gives rise to varied directional properties that can be predicted and controlled.

"This work represents an elegant advance in programmable materials assembly, made possible by a multidisciplinary approach," said Jennifer Lewis, a professor at Wyss and senior author of the study. "We have now gone beyond integrating form and function to create transformable architectures."

The new method opens up many new and exciting potential applications for 4-D-printing technology including smart textiles, soft electronics, biomedical devices and tissue engineering.

The work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Harvard University (under grant DMR 08-20484).

To learn more about this research, see the Wyss Institute press release Novel 4D printing method blossoms from botanical inspiration. (Date image taken: 2015; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: March 7, 2016) [Image 1 of 3 related images. See Image 2.]

Credit: A.S. Gladman, E. Matsumoto, L.K. Sanders and J.A. Lewis, Wyss Institute at Harvard University
 
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