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Modeling out-of-plane actuation in thin-film nematic polymer networks: From chiral ribbons to auto-origami boxes via twist and topology.


Various experimental and theoretical studies demonstrate that complex stimulus-responsive out-of-plane distortions such as twist of different chirality, emergence of cones, simple and anticlastic bending can be engineered and pre-programmed in a liquid crystalline rubbery material given a well-controlled director microstructure. Via 3-d finite element simulation studies, we demonstrate director-encoded chiral shape actuation in thin-film nematic polymer networks under external stimulus. Furthermore, we design two complex director fields with twisted nematic domains and nematic disclinations that encode a pattern of folds for an auto-origami box. This actuator will be flat at a reference nematic state and form four well-controlled bend distortions as orientational order changes. Device fabrication is applicable via current experimental techniques. These results are in qualitative agreement with theoretical predictions, provide insight into experimental observations, and demonstrate the value of finite element methods at the continuum level for designing and engineering liquid crystal polymeric devices.