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PHELIX Report Summary

Project ID: 307784
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Final Report Summary - PHELIX (Photo-Engineered Helices in Chiral Liquid Crystals)

The sophistication reached by synthetic organic chemistry has enabled the design and synthesis of a wide range of molecular motors, switches, rotors and machines, that display controlled shape changes with an ever-increasing refinement. Interfacing these sophisticated molecules with soft matter would pave the way towards a new era of smart and adaptive materials, that would adapt to their environment or to the human touch, and thus potentially yield lightweight, energy-friendly and sustainable materials. However, amplifying the mechanically-relevant motion of these molecules in space and across length scales remains a key challenge along the way.

Addressing this challenge, the project "Phelix" has drawn inspiration from living materials where the ingenious coupling of active molecules with anisotropic soft matter promotes the emergence of original and adaptive optical and shape-shifting properties at the macroscopic level.

One of the most significant results of the project is the demonstration that the motion of a molecular photo-switch can be amplified in versatile soft springs, by extracting the working principles from "the power of movement in plants", that inspired Darwin already centuries ago. These biomimetic springs produce useful work, and they adapt their mechanical response to stress, in a manner that mimics the active response of muscle fibers and tendons.

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