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Nat Mater. 2005 Jun;4(6):491-5. Epub 2005 May 8.

Photomechanical actuation in polymer-nanotube composites.

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  • 1Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0HE, UK.


For some systems, energy from an external source can trigger changes in the internal state of the structure, leading to a mechanical response much larger than the initial input. The ability to unlock this internal work in a solid-state structure is of key importance for many potential applications. We report a novel phenomenon of photo-induced mechanical actuation observed in a polymer-nanotube composite when exposed to infrared radiation. At small strains the sample tends to expand, when stimulated by photons, by an amount that is orders of magnitude greater than the pristine polymer. Conversely, at larger applied pre-strain, it will contract under identical infrared excitation. The behaviour is modelled as a function of orientational ordering of nanotubes induced by the uniaxial extension. It is thought that no other materials can display this continuously reversible response of so large a magnitude, making rubber nanocomposites important for actuator applications.

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