Oleg Lavrentovich1 Greta Babakhanova1 Taras Turiv1 Yubing Guo1 Qi-Huo Wei1 Mathew Hendrikx2 Albert Schenning2 Dirk Broer2

1, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, United States
2, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, , Netherlands

Stimuli-responsive liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) with a strong coupling of orientational molecular order and rubber-like elasticity, show a great potential as working elements in soft robotics, sensing, transport and propulsion systems. We demonstrate a dynamic thermal control of the surface topography of LCE coatings achieved through pre-designed patterns of in-plane molecular orientation. These patterns determine whether the LCE coating develops elevations, depressions, or in-plane deformations. The deterministic dependence of the out-of-plane dynamic surface profile on the in-plane orientational pattern is explained by activation forces. These forces are caused by two factors: (i) stretching-contraction of the polymer networks driven by temperature; (ii) spatially varying orientation of the LCE. The activation force concept brings the responsive LCEs into the domain of active matter. The demonstrated relationship can be used to design programmable coatings with functionalities that mimic biological tissues such as skin. The work was supported by NSF grant DMR-1507637, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO; TOP PUNT grant 10018944) and the European Research Council (Vibrate ERC, grant 669991).