3D Microactuator Driven by Hydrogel Swelling


We seek to understand and exploit the fundamental physics and mechanics of soft active materials as well as molecular transportation in polymer network. Using a novel microfabrication technology, 3D hydrogel microactuators driven by microfluidic capillary network have been fabricated (Figure). Unlike conventional MEMS actuators or polymeric manipulators, motion is generated via local swelling control enabled by direct solvent delivery through embedded microfluidic channels. This actuation mechanism is simple, reversible, fast, and can be associated with various environmental stimuli such as temperature, pH, and light. In order to better understand swelling-driven actuation, solvent diffusion coupled with large deformation of hydrogel is being investigated. We believe 3D multifunctional microactuator has great potential in various fields such as soft robotics, microfluidics, artificial muscle, and drug delivery.

Figure Micro-flower blooming on solvent delivery through microfluidic capillaries. Scale bar indicates 1 mm.