Geometric reconfigurations in cellular structures have recently been exploited to realize adaptive materials with applications in mechanics, optics, and electronics. However, the achievable symmetry breakings and corresponding types of deformation and related functionalities have remained rather limited, mostly due to the fact that the macroscopic geometry of the structures is generally co-aligned with the molecular anisotropy of the constituent material. To address this limitation, cellular microstructures are fabricated out of liquid crystalline elastomers (LCEs) with an arbitrary, user-defined liquid crystal (LC) mesogen orientation encrypted by a weak magnetic field. This platform enables anisotropy to be programmed independently at the molecular and structural levels and the realization of unprecedented director-determined symmetry breakings in cellular materials, which are demonstrated by both finite element analyses and experiments. It is illustrated that the resulting mechanical reconfigurations can be harnessed to program microcellular materials with switchable and direction-dependent frictional properties and further exploit ”area-specific” deformation patterns to locally modulate transmitted light and precisely guide object movement. As such, the work provides a clear route to decouple anisotropy at the materials level from the directionality of the macroscopic cellular structure, which may lead to a new generation of smart and adaptive materials and devices.
The developing field of active, stimuli-responsive materials is in need for new dynamic architectures that may offer unprecedented chemomechanical switching mechanisms. Toward this goal, syntheses of polymerizable bipyridine ligands, bis(4-vinylbenzyl)[2,2′-bipyridine]-4,4′-dicarboxylate and N4,N4′-bis(4-vinylphenyl)-2,2′-bipyridine-4,4′-dicarboxamide, and a number of redox-active Ruthenium(II) and Iron(II) complexes with them are reported. Detailed characterizations by NMR, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, high-resolution mass-spectrometry, X-ray, and cyclic voltammetry show that the topology of these molecules allows them to serve as both comonomers and crosslinkers in polymerization reactions. Electronic properties of the ligands are tunable by choosing carboxylate- or carboxamido-linkages between the core and the vinylaryl moieties, leading to a library of Ru and Fe complexes with the M(III)/M(II) standard redox potentials suitable for catalyzing self-oscillating Belousov–Zhabotinskii (BZ) reaction. New poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)-based redox-responsive functional gels containing hydrophilic comonomers, which have been prepared using representative Ru bpy complexes as both a crosslinker and redox-active catalyst, exhibit a unique feature: their swelling/contraction mode switches its dependence on the oxidation state of the Ru center, upon changing the ratio of comonomers in the hybrid gel network. The BZ self-oscillations of such crosslinked hydrogels have been observed and quantified for both supported film and free-standing gel samples, demonstrating their potential as chemomechanically active modules for new functional materials.
Soft robotic actuators offer many advantages over their rigid counterparts, but they often are unable to apply highly localized point loads. In contrast, many invertebrates have not only evolved extremely strong ‘‘hybrid appendages’’ that are composed of rigid ends that can grasp, puncture, and anchor into solid substrates, but they also are compliant and resilient, owing to the functionally graded architecture that integrates rigid termini with their flexible and highly extensible soft musculatures. Inspired by the design principles of these natural hybrid appendages, we demonstrate a synthetic hybrid end effector for soft-bodied robots that exhibits excellent piercing abilities. Through the incorporation of functionally graded interfaces, this design strategy minimizes stress concentrations at the junctions adjoining the fully rigid and soft components and optimizes the bending stiffness to effectively penetrate objects without interfacial failure under shear and compressive loading re- gimes. In this composite architecture, the radially aligned tooth-like elements apply balanced loads to maximize puncturing ability, resulting in the coordinated fracture of an object of interest.
We discuss the state of the art and innovative micro- and nanoscale technologies that are finding niches and opening up new opportunities in medicine, particularly in diagnostic and therapeutic applications. We take the design of point-of-care applications and the capture of circulating tumor cells as illustrative examples of the integration of micro- and nanotechnologies into solutions of diagnostic challenges. We describe several novel nanotechnologies that enable imaging cellular structures and molecular events. In therapeutics, we describe the utilization of micro- and nanotechnologies in applications including drug delivery, tissue engineering, and pharmaceutical development/testing. In addition, we discuss relevant challenges that micro- and nanotechnologies face in achieving cost-effective and widespread clinical implementation as well as forecasted applications of micro- and nanotechnologies in medicine.
Mechanical forces in the cell’s natural environment have a crucial impact on growth,
differentiation and behaviour. Few areas of biology can be understood without taking into account how both individual cells and cell networks sense and transduce physical stresses. However, the field is currently held back by the limitations of the available methods to apply physiologically relevant stress profiles on cells, particularly with sub-cellular resolution, in controlled in vitro experiments. Here we report a new type of active cell culture material that allows highly localized, directional and reversible deformation of the cell growth substrate, with control at scales ranging from the entire surface to the subcellular, and response times on the order of seconds. These capabilities are not matched by any other method, and this versatile material has the potential to bridge the performance gap between the existing single cell micro-manipulation and 2D cell sheet mechanical stimulation techniques.
We describe the behavior of a temperature-responsive hydrogel actuated integrated responsive structure (HAIRS). The structure is constructed by embedding a rigid high-aspect-ratio post in a layer of poly(Nisopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) hydrogel which is bonded to a rigid substrate. As the hydrogel contracts, the post abruptly tilts. The HAIRS has demonstrated its broad applications in generating reversible micropattern formation, active optics, tunable wettability, and artificial homeostasis. To quantitatively describe and predict the system behavior, we construct an analytical model combining the structural instability, i.e. buckling of the post, and the material instability, i.e. the volume phase transition of PNIPAM hydrogel. The two instabilities of the system result in a large hysteresis in response to heating and cooling processes. Experimental results validate the predicted phenomenon of the abrupt tilting as temperature and large hysteresis in a heating-and-cooling cycle in the PNIPAM actuated HAIRS. Based on this model, we further discuss the influence of the material properties on the actuation of the structure.
We use computational modeling to design a device that can controllably trap and release particles in solution in response to variations in temperature. The system exploits the thermoresponsive properties of end-grafted fibers and the underlying gel substrate. The fibers mimic the temperature-dependent behavior of biological aptamers, which form a hairpin structure at low temperatures (T) and unfold at higher T, consequently losing their binding affinity. The gel substrate exhibits a lower critical solution temperature and thus, expands at low temperatures and contracts at higher T. By developing a new dissipative particle dynamics simulation, we examine the behavior of this hybrid system in a flowing fluid that contains buoyant nanoparticles. At low T, the expansion of the gel causes the hairpin-shaped fibers to extend into the path of the fluid-driven particle. Exhibiting a high binding affinity for these particles at low temperature, the fibers effectively trap and extract the particles from the surrounding solution. When the temperature is increased, the unfolding of the fiber and collapse of the supporting gel layer cause the particles to be released and transported away from the layer by the applied shear flow. Since the temperature-induced conformational changes of the fiber and polymer gel are reversible, the system can be used repeatedly to “catch and release” particles in solution. Our findings provide guidelines for creating fluidic devices that are effective at purifying contaminated solutions or trapping cells for biological assays.
The extraction of nanoscopic particulates from flowing fluids is a vital step in filtration processes, as well as the fabrication of nanocomposites. Inspired by the ability of carnivorous plants to use hair-like filaments to entrap species, we use computational modeling to design a multi-component system that integrates compliant fibers and thermo-responsive gels to extract particles from the surrounding solution. In particular, hydrophobic fibers are embedded in a gel that exhibits a lower critical solution temperature (LCST). With an increase in temperature, the gel collapses to expose fibers that self assemble into bundles, which act as nanoscale ‘‘grippers’’ that bind the particles and draw them into the underlying gel. By varying the relative stiffness of the fibers, the fiber–particle interaction strength and the shear rate in the solution, we identify optimal parameters where the particles are effectively drawn from the solution and remain firmly bound within the gel layer. Hence, the system can be harnessed in purifying fluids and creating novel hybrid materials that integrate nanoparticles with polymer gels.
Surface topography has been introduced as a new tool to coordinate cell selection, growth, morphology, and differentiation. The materials explored so far for making such
structural surfaces are mostly rigid and impermeable. Hydrogel, on the other hand, was proved a better synthetic media for cell culture because of its biocompatibility, softness, and high permeability. Herein, we fabricated a poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (pHEMA) hydrogel substrate with high-aspectratio surface microfeatures. Such structural surface could effectively guide the orientation and shape of human mesenchymal stem cells (HMSCs). Notably, on the flat hydrogel surface, cells rounded up, whereas on the microplate patterned hydrogel surface, cells elongated and aligned along the direction parallel to the plates. The microplates were 2 μm thick, 20 μm tall, and 10−50 μm wide. The interplate spacing was 5−15 μm, and the intercolumn spacing was 5 μm. The elongation of cell body was more pronounced on the patterns with narrower interplate spacing and wider plates. The cells behaved like soft solid. The competition between surface energy and elastic energy defined the shape of the cells on the structured surfaces. The soft permeable hydrogel scaffold with surface structures was also demonstrated as being viable for longterm cell culture, and could be used to generate interconnected tissues with finely tuned cell morphology and alignment across a few centimeter sizes.
A number of physiological processes in living organisms involve the selective ‘‘catch and release’’ of biomolecules. Inspired by these biological processes, we use computational modeling to design synthetic systems that can controllably catch, transport, and release specific molecules within the surrounding solution, and, thus, could be harnessed for effective separation processes within microfluidic devices. Our system consists of an array of oscillating, microscopic fins that are anchored onto the floor of a microchannel and immersed in a flowing bilayer fluid. The oscillations drive the fins to repeatedly extend into the upper fluid and then tilt into the lower stream. The fins exhibit a specified wetting interaction with the fluids and specific adhesive interactions with nanoparticles in the solution. With this setup, we determine conditions where the oscillating fins can selectively bind, and thus, ‘‘catch’’ target nanoparticles within the upper fluid stream and
then release these particles into the lower stream. We isolate the effects of varying the wetting interaction and the fins’ oscillation modes on the effective extraction of target species from the upper stream. Our findings provide fundamental insights into the system’s complex dynamics and yield guidelines for fabricating devices for the detection and separation of target molecules from complex fluids.
Many industries require irreversibly responsive materials for use as sensors or detectors of environmental exposure. We describe the synthesis and fabrication of a nontoxic surface coating that reports oxygen exposure of the substrate material through irreversible formation of colored spots. The coating consists of a selectively permeable rubber film that contains the colorless organic precursors to darkly pigmented synthetic melanin. Melanin synthesis within the film is triggered by exposure to molecular oxygen. The selectively permeable rubber film regulates the rate of oxygen diffusion, enabling independent control of the sensitivity and response time of the artificial melanosome, while preventing leaching of melanin or its precursors.
Dynamic materials that can sense changes in their surroundings and functionally respond by altering many of their physical characteristics are primed to be integral components of future “smart” technologies. A fundamental reason for the adaptability of biological organisms is their innate ability to convert environmental or chemical cues into mechanical motion and reconfiguration on both the molecular and macroscale. However, design and engineering of robust chemomechanical behavior in artificial materials has proven a challenge. Such systems can be quite complex and often require intricate coordination between both chemical and mechanical inputs and outputs, as well as the combination of multiple materials working cooperatively to achieve the proper functionality. It is critical to not only understand the fundamental behaviors of existing dynamic chemo- mechanical systems but also apply that knowledge and explore new avenues for design of novel materials platforms that could provide a basis for future adaptive technologies.
In this Account, we explore the chemomechanical behavior, properties, and applications of hybrid-material surfaces consisting of environmentally sensitive hydrogels integrated within arrays of high-aspect-ratio nano- or microstructures. This bio-inspired approach, in which the volume-changing hydrogel acts as the “muscle” that reversibly actuates the microstructured “bones”, is highly tunable and customizable. Although straightforward in concept, the combination of just these two materials (structures and hydrogel) has given rise to a far more complex set of actuation mechanisms and behaviors. Variations in how the hydrogel is physically integrated within the structure array provide the basis for three fundamental mechanisms of actuation, each with its own set of responsive properties and chemomechanical behavior. Further control over how the chemical stimulus is applied to the surface, such as with microfluidics, allows for generation of more precise and varied patterns of actuation. We also discuss the possible applications of these hybrid surfaces for chemomechanical manipulation of reactions, including the generation of chemomechanical feedback loops. Comparing and contrasting these many approaches and techniques, we aim to put into perspective their highly tunable and diverse capabilities but also their future challenges and impacts.