Coarse-grained simulation of molecular mechanisms of recovery in thermally activated shape-memory polymers

Brendan C. Abberton, Wing Kam Liu, Sinan Keten*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Thermally actuated shape-memory polymers (SMPs) are capable of being programmed into a temporary shape and then recovering their permanent reference shape upon exposure to heat, which facilitates a phase transition that allows dramatic increase in molecular mobility. Experimental, analytical, and computational studies have established empirical relations of the thermomechanical behavior of SMPs that have been instrumental in device design. However, the underlying mechanisms of the recovery behavior and dependence on polymer microstructure remain to be fully understood for copolymer systems. This presents an opportunity for bottom-up studies through molecular modeling; however, the limited time-scales of atomistic simulations prohibit the study of key performance metrics pertaining to recovery. In order to elucidate the effects of phase fraction, recovery temperature, and deformation temperature on shape recovery, here we investigate the shape-memory behavior in a copolymer model with coarse-grained potentials using a two-phase molecular model that reproduces physical crosslinking. Our simulation protocol allows observation of upwards of 90% strain recovery in some cases, at time-scales that are on the order of the timescale of the relevant relaxation mechanism (stress relaxation in the unentangled soft-phase). Partial disintegration of the glassy phase during mechanical deformation is found to contribute to irrecoverable strain. Temperature dependence of the recovery indicates nearly full elastic recovery above the trigger temperature, which is near the glass-transition temperature of the rubbery switching matrix. We find that the trigger temperature is also directly correlated with the deformation temperature, indicating that deformation temperature influences the recovery temperatures required to obtain a given amount of shape recovery, until the plateau regions overlap above the transition region. Increasing the fraction of glassy phase results in higher strain recovery at low to intermediate temperatures, a widening of the transition region, and an eventual crossover at high temperatures. Our results corroborate experimental findings on shape-memory behavior and provide new insight into factors governing deformation recovery that can be leveraged in biomaterials design. The established computational methodology can be extended in straightforward ways to investigate the effects of monomer chemistry, low-molecular-weight solvents, physical and chemical crosslinking, different phase-separation morphologies, and more complicated mechanical deformation toward predictive modeling capabilities for stimuliresponsive polymers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2625-2637
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Coarse-grained molecular dynamics
  • Mechanics
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Recovery
  • Relaxation
  • Shape-memory polymer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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