Researchers trained material the same way as Pavlov trained dogs. A specially conditioned liquid crystal polymer could be controlled with the power of light alone, with new potential applications in soft robotics.
Conditioning is a method made famous by Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. Pavlov trained a dog by ringing a bell every time the dog was fed. The dog learned to associate the bell with food, and then drooled when it heard the bell ring, even if it didn’t see anything to eat. In an earlier study, researchers at Aalto University and Tampere University succeeded in conditioning a solid gel so that it melted to become liquid under the influence of light alone. Now, the same researchers have taught a liquid crystal polymer to move, and to stick to an object of a given colour.
‘At first, the liquid crystal polymer did not react to light at all, but during the process, it learned to move and grab objects under the guidance of light. The idea is the same as in the previous study, but now the conditioning includes tangible functions’, Professor Olli Ikkala from Aalto University explained.
The plastic used in the study contains liquid crystal molecules whose positioning relative to one another is important for flexibility and transformation.
‘Conditioning can teach materials new tricks, such as recognising colours or moving in conditions where they don’t originally move,’ said Professor Arri Priimägi from Tampere University.
Source: “Liquid crystal polymer learns to move and grab objects”, Olli Iikalla, Hang Zhang, Aalto University