New Materials That Move In Response to Light

Scientists from Tufts University School of Engineering have designed new materials that move in unique ways when exposed to light. These magnetic elastomeric composites could one day lead to a wide variety of designs that perform all sorts of different movements. This technology could be used in everything from solar arrays to tiny engines and create a whole new field for solar power.

The research team was inspired by nature, where there are plenty of examples showing how light can compel movement and change. For this experiment, the light actuated materials were based on the principle of the Curie temperature. The Curie temperature is the temperature above which specific materials can change their magnetic properties. Scientists can turn the magnetism of a material on and off by heating or cooling it accordingly.

To mimic this behavior, scientists took biopolymers and elastomers and doped them with ferromagnetic CrO2, which heats up when exposed to sunlight or lasers. This causes the materials to temporarily lose their magnetic properties until they’ve once again cooled down.

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