Unusually fast and large actuation from multilayer polyelectrolyte thin films

Polymers responsive to external stimuli (e.g., electric field, chemical vapor, light) are of great interest for smart materials such as sensors and soft robotics. A vapor-driven multilayer polymer actuator, capable of fast and large-scale actuation, is described here. This Janus-like actuator is prepared with two polyelectrolyte multilayer systems (polyethylenimine (PEI)/poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) and polyurethane (PU)/poly(acrylic acid) (PAA)) using layer-by-layer assembly (LbL). The differing hydrophilicity of these two nanocoatings results in different swelling behavior in water and organic solvents, which leads to vapor-responsive mechanical motion. The bending/curling degree of this polymeric actuator can be precisely controlled by changing the thickness ratio of the two layers. A vapor sensor was constructed to demonstrate the environmental detection ability of this unique actuator.

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Y. Song, S. Qin, J. Gerringer, J.C. Grunlan, Soft Matter 2019, 15, 2311-2314.
Published in January 2019