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Photomechanical coupling in photoactive nematic elastomers

Ruobing Bai's picture

Dear Colleagues,

Our paper on theory of photomechanical elastomers has been published in JMPS. We explored the interplay between mechanical stress, light-induced reaction, and large deformation in photoactive nematic elastomers. You can find 50 days' free access here:

Photomechanical coupling in photoactive nematic elastomers

Ruobing Bai, Kaushik Bhattacharya

Division of Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

Abstract: Photoactive nematic elastomers are soft rubbery solids that undergo deformation when illuminated. They are made by incorporating photoactive molecules like azobenzene into nematic liquid crystal elastomers. Since its initial demonstration in 2001, it has received increasing interest with many recent studies of periodic and buckling behavior. However, theoretical models developed have focused on describing specific deformation modes (e.g., beam bending and uniaxial contraction) in the absence of mechanical loads, with only limited attention to the interplay between mechanical stress and light-induced deformation. This paper explores photomechanical coupling in a photoactive nematic elastomer under both light illumination and mechanical stress. We begin with a continuum framework built on the free energy developed by Corbett and Warner (Phys. Rev. Lett. 2006). Mechanical stress leads to nematic alignment parallel to a uniaxial tensile stress. In the absence of mechanical stress, in the photo-stationary state where the system reaches equilibrium, the nematic director tends to align perpendicular to the polarization of a linearly polarized light. However, sufficient illumination can destroy nematic order through a first-order nematic-isotropic phase transition which is accompanied by a snap through deformation. Combined illumination and mechanical stress can lead to an exchange of stability accompanied by stripe domains. Finally, the stress-intensity phase diagram shows a critical point that may be of interest for energy conversion.




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