A bilayer hydrogel composite actuator with sensing performance

(Nanowerk News) A research group led by Prof. CHEN Tao at the Ningbo Institute of Materials Technology and Engineering (NIMTE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), has developed a novel asymmetric bilayer carbon nanotube (CNT)-elastomer/hydrogel composite with integrated actuating and sensing performances.
The study was published in Chemical Engineering Journal ("Asymmetric bilayer CNTs-elastomer/hydrogel composite as soft actuators with sensing performance").
a bilayer carbon nanotubes elastomer/hydrogel composite
The CNTs-Ecoflex/PNIPAm hydrogel composite with actuating and sensing performances inspired by skin and muscle (Image: NIMTE) (click on image to enlarge)
Living creatures can actuate and sense during the movement, which facilitates them adapting to the environment. For instance, the combination of muscle actuation and skin sensing contributes to our intelligent interaction with the surroundings.
Similarly, soft robots implanted with sensation and actuation function simultaneously can be more flexible and intelligent. However, the combination of actuating and sensing performances in bionic soft robots still remains a great challenge.
To address this issue, the research group at NIMTE proposed a novel bilayer hydrogel composite actuator with integrated shape deformation and sensing behaviors, which mimicked the collaboration between skin and muscle.
The CNTs-Ecoflex film was applied as the sensing layer, while the thermo-responsive PNIPAm hydrogel functioned as the actuation active layer to generate contraction upon the trigger of heat.
By virtue of the near-infrared (NIR) photothermal effect of CNTs, the PNIPAm hydrogel layer would shrink due to the loss of water upon the irradiation of NIR, thus achieving the bending deformation of the synthesized hydrogel composite.
In addition, the CNTs-Ecoflex film is conductive, thus can generate electrical signals according to the stretch caused by bending, realizing the real-time monitoring of the actuating procedure.
This study may shed light on the design and preparation of novel intelligent biomimetic systems with integrated actuating and feedback sensing behaviors.
Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences
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