The overall goal of this cross-disciplinary project is to combine stretchable electronics with soft robotics in order to build up a novel materials platform that possesses multifunctional electronic control, sensing, and signaling coupled with actuation in response to environmental stimuli, such as electricity, heat, and light. In recent years the transformation of electronics into soft and stretchable organic systems has opened up a wide range of novel applications, including healthcare monitoring with ultrathin skin-like flexible devices, whereas actuators composed of soft active materials possess characteristics for microrobotics that are nearly impossible to achieve with conventional rigid systems, most notably mechanical compatibility with biological tissue. In this project interpenetrating conducting polymer networks will be fabricated in an actuator composed of a liquid crystal elastomer, a class of materials that has undergone rapid development within the past decade and is considered one of the best candidates for microscale soft robotics. The stimuli-response of the actuator brings about possibilities towards autonomous action, where it can sense the environment and act accordingly, representing multifunctional materials where the matrix has an active role in functionality. The unique combination of properties and functionalities promises coupled sensing and actuation that could have a transformative impact on the use of liquid crystal elastomers in soft matter applications. I envision that the conducting actuators have future applications as wearable sensors for heart rate detection and electrical nerve stimulation, with the reversible shape change enabling them to smoothly envelop around the target tissue.
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