Liquid Crystalline Polymer Composites as smart Actuators (August 6, 2021)

Professor Shu Yang

Chair of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

University of Pennsylvania


William Mong Visiting Research Fellowship Series:

Conventional robots made of metals and ceramics are rigid. Although robust, they are often heavy, bulky, tethered and non-adaptive to environmental changes. Soft robots are light-weight, compliant, and adaptive, and can achieve multi-degrees of freedom. However, their softness makes it difficult to control the shape change and locomotion, or lift heavy weights.  

To precisely and locally control the shapes and agile locomotion with considerable strains, we create thin films and filaments from liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) and their composites with gold nanorods, carbon nanotubes, cellulose nanocrystals and conducting polymers.  Through designs of geometric surface patterns, e.g. microchannels, we program the orientational elasticity in LCEs to direct folding of the 2D sheets into 3D shapes, which can be triggered by heat, light, and electric field. We then fabricate tendon-like filaments as high strength, dual-adaptive actuators in soft robotic applications, as well as programmable gaits to achieve different modes of locomotion.  

About the Speaker

Shu Yang is a Joseph Bordogna Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Chair of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, and Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at University of Pennsylvania. Her group is interested in synthesis, fabrication, and assembly of polymers, liquid crystals, and colloids; investigation of the dynamic tuning of their sizes, shape and assembled structures, and use geometry to create highly flexible, super-conformable, and shape changing materials. Her lab explores the potential applications of the smart and bioinspired materials, including self-cleaning coatings, structural colors, adhesives, smart windows, sensors, actuators for robotics and biomedical devices. Yang received her B.S. degree from Fudan University in 1992, and Ph. D. degree from Cornell University in 1999. She worked at Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies as a Member of Technical Staff before joining Penn in 2004. She received George H. Heilmeier Faculty Award for Excellence in Research from Penn Engineering (2015-2016). She is a Fellow of Materials Research Society (MRS) (2021), Division of Soft Matter (DSOFT) from American Physical Society (APS), Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering from American Chemical Society (ACS) (2018), Royal Chemical Society (2017), and National Academy of Inventors (2014). She was selected as one of the world’s top 100 young innovators under age of 35 by MIT’s Technology Review (2004). 


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