Robust thermoelastic microactuator based on an organic molecular crystal

YL Duan and S Semin and P Tinnemans and H Cuppen and JL Xu and T Rasing, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 10, 4573 (2019).

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12601-y

Mechanically responsive molecular crystals that reversibly change shape triggered by external stimuli are invaluable for the design of actuators for soft robotics, artificial muscles and microfluidic devices. However, their strong deformations usually lead to their destruction. We report a fluorenone derivative (4-DBpFO) showing a strong shear deformation upon heating due to a structural phase transition which is reproducible after more than hundred heating/cooling cycles. Molecular dynamic simulations show that the transition occurs through a nucleation-and-growth mechanism, triggered by thermally induced rotations of the phenyl rings, leading to a rearrangement of the molecular configuration. The applicability as actuator is demonstrated by displacing a micron-sized glass bead over a large distance, delivering a kinetic energy of more than 65 pJ, corresponding to a work density of 270 J kg(-1). This material can serve as a prototype structure to direct the development of new types of robust molecular actuators.

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