Covalent-supramolecular hybrid polymers as muscle-inspired anisotropic actuators

Stacey M. Chin, Christopher V. Synatschke, Shuangping Liu, Rikkert J. Nap, Nicholas A. Sather, Qifeng Wang, Zaida Álvarez, Alexandra N. Edelbrock, Timmy Fyrner, Liam C. Palmer, Igal Szleifer, Monica Olvera De La Cruz, Samuel I. Stupp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Skeletal muscle provides inspiration on how to achieve reversible, macroscopic, anisotropic motion in soft materials. Here we report on the bottom-up design of macroscopic tubes that exhibit anisotropic actuation driven by a thermal stimulus. The tube is built from a hydrogel in which extremely long supramolecular nanofibers are aligned using weak shear forces, followed by radial growth of thermoresponsive polymers from their surfaces. The hierarchically ordered tube exhibits reversible anisotropic actuation with changes in temperature, with much greater contraction perpendicular to the direction of nanofiber alignment. We identify two critical factors for the anisotropic actuation, macroscopic alignment of the supramolecular scaffold and its covalent bonding to polymer chains. Using finite element analysis and molecular calculations, we conclude polymer chain confinement and mechanical reinforcement by rigid supramolecular nanofibers are responsible for the anisotropic actuation. The work reported suggests strategies to create soft active matter with molecularly encoded capacity to perform complex tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2395
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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