We describe a composite hydrogel containing an embedding coupled chemistry for light-sensitized catalytic reactions that enables chemo-mechanical actuation of poly(acrylic acid)-based gels. In these materials, a photosensitizer and catalyst - ruthenium trisbipyridine and iridium dioxide nanoparticles, respectively - are incorporated into the hydrogel where together, with visible light irradiation, they undergo a catalytic water-oxidation reaction that lowers the pH and induces a dissipative/chemically-driven strain change in the gel. To demonstrate the capacity for 3D chemo-mechanical actuation, a layer of non-pH responsive poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) is added to the photo-active composite gel to create a model bimorph actuator. Triggering and terminating the water-oxidation reaction leads to a programmatic expansion and contraction of the active layer, which induces different modes of biomimetic curling motions in the bimorph actuator in light and dark environments. The efficiency of this system is fundamentally limited by the system-level design, which provides no capacity to sustain a local pH gradient against diffusive mixing. Even so, if the initial pH of the background solution is reestablished either actively or passively between each reaction cycle, it is possible to realize multiple cycles of reversible actuation. We describe a thermodynamic analysis of this system which identifies specific features mediating efficiency losses and conceptual requirements for mesoscopic design rules for optimization of this system and for advancing soft actuation systems in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7312-7317
Number of pages6
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number40
StatePublished - 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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