Liquid Crystal Elastomers

Liquid Crystal Elastomers (LCE) is a radically new polymer system, akin to rubber, but with remarkable and unexpected properties that stem from its intricate molecular structure. This structure creates local anisotropy axis, which can rotate separately and independently of the rubber-elastic matrix. This leads to two main effects, each of which promises ground-breaking applications and devices: LCE reversibly contract and expand on heating and cooling, changing the length by a huge amount – up to 100-200%. This mechanical actuation allows us to design an LCE engine working on a difference in temperature between two containers, or a tactile display (e.g. Braille) switching pixels on focused signal. The other feature of LCE has a name “soft elasticity”, when certain deformations occur without elastic resistance. This leads to anomalous mechanical damping and applications in vibration isolation, and also to an enhanced adhesion that could be reversibly switched off by heating.

First invented in 1980s and 90s, LCEs are only beginning to penetrate into the industrial applications and design. CSP team members have been at the very beginning of this development, and we are now developing marketable LCE applications in vibration isolation, reversible grippers, microfluidics, and LCE engine converting waste heat into useful work.