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Bending polymers imitate the beauty of nature

By Chemical Engineering |

Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Racah Institute of Physics (Israel; edlinks.chemengonline.com/6899-539) have succeeded in programming polymer sheets to bend and wrinkle by themselves into prescribed structures, such as domes, saddles and sombrero shapes (photo). Their work, described in a recent issue of Science, may have applications ranging from optics to biomedicine. The shapes are made by warming flat discs made of a soft gel composed of a web of cross-linked polymers. At temperatures above 33°C, the material shrinks by an amount determined by the local polymer density. By varying the density across the disk, the sheets buckle to relieve the pressure of uneven shrinkage. The researchers have developed an automated mixing system to prepare gels that will “set” into the desired shape.
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