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Polymers change shape by light

Scientists report in “Nature” about a substantial progress in the development of intelligent plastics


Exposure and Deformation of an IPN-Polymers

The principle takes nature as an example: plants open up their petals when facing the sunlight. This biological system uses light as source of information. Now a synthetic polymeric material has been invented showing a similar functionality. An object made from such a polymer can be deformed and temporarily fixed in a different new shape by irradiation with light having certain wavelengths.

Exposed to light with certain other wavelengths the original shape is recovered. Responsible for this effect are molecular switches, photosensitive groups, which can be connected and disconnected with each other when facing light of different wavelengths.

Temperature-induced shape-memory polymers are well-known. With the implementation of the light-induced material systems as now presented the applicability of shape-memory polymers will be clearly expanded. The innovation potential is anticipated to be significant in various application areas. Examples for potential medical applications include intelligent sutures or stents.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Lendlein (GKSS – Research Centre Geesthacht GmbH, Teltow Campus, and RWTH Aachen); Dr. Hongyan Jiang (RWTH Aachen), Dr. Oliver Jünger (formerly RWTH Aachen), and Prof. Dr. Robert Langer (MIT, Cambridge, USA) are the authors of the publication in the April 14 issue of Nature.

Light-induced shape-memory effect of an IPN polymer; (a) original, (b) temporarily fixed, (c) and (d) recovered shape with increasing time period of UV-light exposure.

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Sabine Benner

Centre for
Biomaterial Development
GKSS Research Centre Geesthacht

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