Drying-induced bifurcation in a hydrogel-actuated nanostructure
Hydrogels have enormous potential for making adaptive structures in response to diverse stimuli. In a structure demonstrated recently, for example, nanoscale rods of silicon were embedded vertically in a swollen hydrogel, and the rods tilted by a large angle in response to a drying environment [Sidorenko, Science 315, 487 (2007)]. Here we describe a model to show that this behavior corresponds to a bifurcation at a critical humidity, analogous to a phase transition of the second kind. The structure adapts to the drying environment in two ways. Above the critical humidity, the rods stand vertical, enabling the hydrogel to develop tension and retain water. Below the critical humidity, the rods tilt, enabling the hydrogel to reduce thickness and release water. We further show that the critical humidity can be tuned. © 2008 American Institute of Physics.
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