MCE Ph.D. Thesis Seminar

Wednesday May 10, 2017 9:00 AM

The deformations of thin nematic elastomer sheets

Speaker: Paul Plucinsky, Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Location: Gates-Thomas 135

Abstract. Thin structures exhibit a broad range of mechanical responses as the competition between stretching and bending in these structures can result in buckling, localized deformations like folding and tension wrinkling. Active materials also exhibit a broad range of mechanical responses as features which manifest themselves at the microscale in these materials result in mechanical couplings at the engineering scale (thermal/electrical/dissipative) and novel function (e.g., the shape memory effect and piezoelectricity in select metal alloys and the immense fracture toughness of hydrogels). Given this richness in behaviors, my research broadly aims to address the following questions: What happens when active materials are incorporated into a thin structures? Do phenomena inherent to these materials compete with or enhance those inherent to thin structures?Does this interplay result in entirely new and unexpected phenomena? And can all this be exploited to design new function in engineering systems?


In this thesis, we explore these questions in the context of a theoretical study of thin sheets of nematic liquid crystal elastomer. These materials are active rubbery solids made of cross-linked polymer chains that have liquid crystals either incorporated into the main chain or pendent from them. Their structure enables a coupling between the mechanical elasticity of the polymer network and the ordering of the liquid crystals, and this in turn results in fairly complex mechanical behavior including large spontaneous distortion due to temperature change, soft-elasticity and fine-scale microstructure.


We study thin sheets of nematic elastomer. First, we show that thin of sheets of a particular class of nematic elastomer can resist wrinkling when stretched. Second, we show that thin sheets of another class of nematic elastomer can be actuated into a multitude of complex shapes. In order to obtain these results, we systematically develop two dimensional theories for thin sheets starting from a well-accepted first principals theory for nematic elastomers. These characterize (i) the mechanical response due to instabilities such as structural wrinkling and fine-scale material microstructure, and (ii) thermal actuation of heterogeneously patterned sheets. For the latter, we show that the theory, which comes in the form of a two dimensional metric constraint, admits two broad classes of designable actuation in nonisometric origami and lifted surface. For the former, we show that taut and appreciably stressed sheets of nematic elastomer are capable of suppressing wrinkling by modifying the expected state of stress through the formation of microstructure.

Series Mechanical and Civil Engineering Seminar

Contact: Jenni Campbell at 626-395-3389