Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Shapeshifting


The creation of reversibly-actuating components that alter their shapes in a controllable manner in response to environmental stimuli is a grand challenge in active materials, structures, and robotics. Here we demonstrate a new reversible shape-changing component design concept enabled by 3D printing two stimuli responsive polymers-shape memory polymers and hydrogels-in prescribed 3D architectures. This approach uses the swelling of a hydrogel as the driving force for the shape change, and the temperature-dependent modulus of a shape memory polymer to regulate the time of such shape change. Controlling the temperature and aqueous environment allows switching between two stable configurations - the structures are relatively stiff and can carry load in each - without any mechanical loading and unloading. Specific shape changing scenarios, e.g., based on bending, or twisting in prescribed directions, are enabled via the controlled interplay between the active materials and the 3D printed architectures. The physical phenomena are complex and nonintuitive, and so to help understand the interplay of geometric, material, and environmental stimuli parameters we develop 3D nonlinear finite element models. Finally, we create several 2D and 3D shape changing components that demonstrate the role of key parameters and illustrate the broad application potential of the proposed approach.

Concepts: 3D printing, Mystique, Engineering, Werewolf, Polymers, Inkjet printer, Control, Shapeshifting


Tensegrity structures with detached struts are naturally suitable for deployable applications, both in terrestrial and outer-space structures, as well as morphing devices. Composed of discontinuous struts and continuous cables, such systems are only structurally stable when self-stress is induced; otherwise, they lose the original geometrical configuration (while keeping the topology) and thus can be tightly packed. We exploit this feature by using stimulus responsive polymers to introduce a paradigm for creating actively deployable 3D structures with complex shapes. The shape-change of 3D printed smart materials adds an active dimension to the configurational space of some structural components. Then we achieve dramatic global volume expansion by amplifying component-wise deformations to global configurational change via the inherent deployability of tensegrity. Through modular design, we can generate active tensegrities that are relatively stiff yet resilient with various complexities. Such unique properties enable structural systems that can achieve gigantic shape change, making them ideal as a platform for super light-weight structures, shape-changing soft robots, morphing antenna and RF devices, and biomedical devices.

Concepts: Shapeshifting, Systems, Structure, System


Copper resistance is a key virulence trait of the uropathogen Proteus mirabilis. Here we show that P. mirabilis ScsC (PmScsC) contributes to this defence mechanism by enabling swarming in the presence of copper. We also demonstrate that PmScsC is a thioredoxin-like disulfide isomerase but, unlike other characterized proteins in this family, it is trimeric. PmScsC trimerization and its active site cysteine are required for wild-type swarming activity in the presence of copper. Moreover, PmScsC exhibits unprecedented motion as a consequence of a shape-shifting motif linking the catalytic and trimerization domains. The linker accesses strand, loop and helical conformations enabling the sampling of an enormous folding landscape by the catalytic domains. Mutation of the shape-shifting motif abolishes disulfide isomerase activity, as does removal of the trimerization domain, showing that both features are essential to foldase function. More broadly, the shape-shifter peptide has the potential for ‘plug and play’ application in protein engineering.

Concepts: Disulfide bond, Amino acid, Shapeshifting, Proteus mirabilis, Protein structure, Urease, Protein, Enzyme


Shape-changing hydrogels that can bend, twist, or actuate in response to external stimuli are critical to soft robots, programmable matter, and smart medicine. Shape change in hydrogels has been induced by global cues, including temperature, light, or pH. Here we demonstrate that specific DNA molecules can induce 100-fold volumetric hydrogel expansion by successive extension of cross-links. We photopattern up to centimeter-sized gels containing multiple domains that undergo different shape changes in response to different DNA sequences. Experiments and simulations suggest a simple design rule for controlled shape change. Because DNA molecules can be coupled to molecular sensors, amplifiers, and logic circuits, this strategy introduces the possibility of building soft devices that respond to diverse biochemical inputs and autonomously implement chemical control programs.

Concepts: Matter, Chemical substance, Molecular biology, Thermodynamics, Shapeshifting, Molecule, Chemistry, DNA


With the discovery of graphene, significant research has focused on the synthesis, characterization, and applications of ultrathin materials. Graphene has also brought into focus other ultrathin materials composed of organics, polymers, inorganics, and their hybrids. Together, these ultrathin materials have unique properties of broad significance. For example, ultrathin materials have a large surface area and high flexibility which can enhance conformal contact in wearables and sensors leading to improved sensitivity. When porous, the short transverse diffusion length in these materials allows rapid mass transport. Alternatively, when impermeable, these materials behave as an ultrathin barrier. Such controlled permeability is critical in the design of encapsulation and drug delivery systems. Finally, ultrathin materials often feature defect-free and single-crystal-like two-dimensional atomic structures resulting in superior mechanical, optical, and electrical properties. A unique property of ultrathin materials is their low bending rigidity, which suggests that they could easily be bent, curved, or folded into 3D shapes. In this Account, we review the emerging field of 2D to 3D shape transformations of ultrathin materials. We broadly define ultrathin to include materials with a thickness below 100 nm and composed of a range of organic, inorganic, and hybrid compositions. This topic is important for both fundamental and applied reasons. Fundamentally, bending and curving of ultrathin films can cause atomistic and molecular strain which can alter their physical and chemical properties and lead to new 3D forms of matter which behave very differently from their planar precursors. Shape change can also lead to new 3D architectures with significantly smaller form factors. For example, 3D ultrathin materials would occupy a smaller space in on-chip devices or could permeate through tortuous media which is important for miniaturized robots and smart dust applications. Our Account highlights several differences between ultrathin and traditional shape change materials. The latter is typically associated with hydrogels, liquid crystals, or shape memory elastomers. As compared to bulk materials, ultrathin materials can much more easily bend and fold due to the significantly reduced bending modulus. Consequently, it takes much less energy to alter the shape of ultrathin materials, and even small environmental stimuli can trigger a large response. Further, the energy barriers between different configurations are small which allow a variety of conformations and enhances programmability. Finally, due to their ultrathin nature, the shape changes are typically not slowed down by sluggish mass or thermal transport, and thus, responses can be much faster than those of bulk materials. The latter point is important in the design of high-speed actuators. Consequently, ultrathin materials could enable low-power, rapid, programmable, and complex shape transformations in response to a broad range of stimuli such as pH, temperature, electromagnetic fields, or chemical environments. The Account also includes a discussion of applications, important challenges, and future directions.

Concepts: Shapeshifting, Smart materials


Thermal metamaterials, proposed in recent years, provide a new method to manipulate the energy flux in heat transfer, and result in many novel thermal devices. In this paper, an illusion thermal device for location camouflage in 3-dimensional heat conduction regime is proposed based on the transformation thermodynamics. The heat source covered by the device produces a fake signal outside the device, which makes the source look like appearing at another position away from its real position. The parameters required by the device are deduced and the method is validated by simulations. The possible scheme to obtain the thermal conductivities required in the device by composing natural materials is supplied, and the influence of some problems in practical fabrication process of the device on the effect of the camouflage is also discussed.

Concepts: Thermodynamics, Physical quantities, Thermal conductivity, Shapeshifting, Energy, Heat transfer, Temperature, Heat


In this work, we advance printed active composites by combining 3D printing, printed electronics, and liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) to achieve soft actuators with free-standing two-way shape changing behaviors. Incorporated LCE strips are activated by Joule heating produced by printed conductive wires, while uniaxial deformation of the LCE strip is utilized as a driving force to achieve bending in the printed composite. The bending behavior of laminated hinges is first characterized in order to obtain a precise control of actuation, which is then exploited to actuate four demonstrative designs: a morphing airplane, a miura-ori structure, a cubic box, and a soft crawler. The soft morphing airplane and miura-ori structure are designed and fabricated with multiple laminated hinges to demonstrate the synergistic actions during actuation. The cubic box is constructed to show the capability of sequential folding by implementing multiple groups of conductive wires to achieve accurately addressable heating with temporal control. Finally, the two-way transformation is utilized as a driving force for the locomotion of a soft crawler stimulated by a periodic rectangular wave current. These examples show the great potential of using the hybrid 3D printing and pick-and-place method and using LCEs to achieve controllable shape change structures for a variety of potential practical applications.

Concepts: Shapeshifting, Crystal, Energy, Soft matter, Structure, Liquid crystal, Electricity, Inkjet printer


Herein, we report the self-assembly and multimodal shape transformation of dual-responsive DNA di- and triblock copolymers. Dual-responsive DNA diblock copolymer was synthesized by coupling a thermo-responsive polymer, poly(N-isopropylacrylamide (PNIPAM) and an oligonucleotide. DNA-b-PNIPAM possesses thermo-responsive properties of PNIPAM as well as molecular recognition properties of DNA. Thus, they undergo reversible temperature-triggered transition at lower critical solution temperature (LCST) between molecular DNA and polymer micelles with high density DNA corona. The hybridization of DNA-b-PNIPAM and DNA-modified nanoparticles generates functional nanoparticles showing unique temperature-dependent aggregation and disaggregation behaviors due to the dual responsive nature of DNA-b-PNIPAM. DNA triblock copolymers of DNA-b-PNIPAM-b-PMA was synthesized by introducing a hydrophobic block, poly(methyl acrylate) (PMA) to DNA/PNIPAM block copolymers, which form spherical micelles at room temperature. They are capable of nanoscale shape transformation through the combination of thermal trigger and DNA binding. DNA-b-PNIPAM-b-PMA micelles undergo sphere-to-cylinder shape changes above LCST due to the conformational change of PNIPAM. The shape change is reversible, and fast cylinder-to-sphere transition occurs when the temperature is lowered below LCST. The low temperature spherical morphology can also be accessed while keeping the temperature above LCST by introducing complimentary DNA strands with single stranded overhang regions. These results demonstrate the multidimensional shape changing capability of DNA-b-PNIPAM-b-PMA enabled by the dual-responsive property.

Concepts: Transformation fetish, Polymer chemistry, Nanotechnology, Shapeshifting, Lower critical solution temperature, Copolymer, DNA, Polymer


Non-rigid registration finds many applications such as photogrammetry, motion tracking, model retrieval, and object recognition. In this paper we propose a novel convex hull aided registration method (CHARM) to match two point sets subject to a non-rigid transformation. Firstly, two convex hulls are extracted from the source and target respectively. Then, all points of the point sets are projected onto the reference plane through each triangular facet of the hulls. From these projections, invariant features are extracted and matched optimally. The matched feature point pairs are mapped back onto the triangular facets of the convex hulls to remove outliers that are outside any relevant triangular facet. The rigid transformation from the source to the target is robustly estimated by the random sample consensus (RANSAC) scheme through minimizing the distance between the matched feature point pairs. Finally, these feature points are utilized as the control points to achieve nonrigid deformation in the form of thin-plate spline of the entire source point set towards the target one. The experimental results based on both synthetic and real data show that the proposed algorithm outperforms several state-of-the-art ones with respect to sampling, rotational angle, and data noise. In addition, the proposed CHARM algorithm also shows higher computational efficiency compared to these methods.

Concepts: Java, Vector space, Shapeshifting, Simplex, Data analysis, Convex hull algorithms, Computational geometry, Convex hull


This paper summarizes the development of a high-power distributed x-ray source, or “multisource,” designed for inverse-geometry computed tomography (CT) applications [see B. De Man et al., “Multisource inverse-geometry CT. Part I. System concept and development,” Med. Phys. 43, 4607-4616 (2016)]. The paper presents the evolution of the source architecture, component design (anode, emitter, beam optics, control electronics, high voltage insulator), and experimental validation.

Concepts: Source, Gene expression, Jay-Z, Shapeshifting, Dielectric, Radiography, Medical imaging, Engineering