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Applications of Bistable Electroactive Polymers as Rewritable Photonic Paper, Smart Windows and Wearable Pressure Sensors

  • Author(s): Xie, Yu
  • Advisor(s): Pei, Qibing
  • et al.

The flexibility and insulating nature of polymeric dielectric materials are widely used in robotic and wearable electronic devices like electrical insulation, capacitive sensors, and electromechanical actuators. When combined with a phase transition-induced shape memory property, the resultant bistable electroactive polymer (BSEP) opens up new applications due to the rigid-to-rigid actuation of BSEP tremendously reducing the energy consumption for device operation while providing desirable strength for external loads. This dissertation focuses on investigating insulating, electroactive, and phase transition properties of BSEP, and adapting each aspect of the properties in the pursuit of innovative devices, such as rewritable photonic paper, smart windows with whole solar spectrum modulation, and wearable pressure sensors.

An ink-free rewritable photonic paper has been invented through the interdisciplinary combination of photonic crystals, shape memory and electroactive properties of BSEP. The rewritable paper consists of a ferroferric oxide-carbon (Fe3O4@C) core–shell nanoparticle (NP)-based photonic crystal embedded in a BSEP. The nanocomposite can be repeatedly triggered to change into different shapes and colors due to the z-directional deformation that is induced by an electric field. The actuated shape and color can be maintained for a long term without energy input, and the stored images can then be rewritten over 500 times without noticeable degradation. Low energy consumption and simple erasing/rewriting are features that match the benefits of conventional paper as a zero-energy and long term data storage medium, but provide the additional advantage of rewritability. With pixelated electrode arrays, user-defined information can be actuated and erased at will which has been demonstrated through a seven-segment numerical display.

A smart window with wide-band light modulation is designed solely based on the phase transition property of BSEP. One component of BSEP can be switched between semicrystalline and amorphous states through cooling below or heating above its melting temperature, leading to a reversible opaque-to-transparent transition. The opacity switching property of BSEP was further improved by mixing a more hydrophilic component to induce micro-scale phase separation, which is responsible for the whole solar spectrum light modulation due to Mie scattering. The resultant smart window achieves both high solar transmittance modulation of 70.2% and high luminous transmittance modulation of 80.4% which rivals the best reported smart windows and commercial privacy glasses with the highest privacy levels. This flexible smart window can also be mounted on curved surfaces for the need of windows with arbitrary shapes. This work is the first one to report an all-solid thermochromic smart window film without the inclusion of any metal/metal oxides or liquid crystals to enable a large light modulation over the whole solar spectrum.

A flexible fiber-based pressure sensor is realized by applying a dielectric layer on the outside of a TEMPO-oxidized bacterial cellulose (TOBC)/silver nanowire (AgNW) conducting fiber. The pressure sensor can detect pressures up to 134 MPa with sensitivity of 101 � 10-4 kPa-1 due to its hierarchical structure and high conductivity. The porous structure of TOBC/AgNW helps increase the thickness deformation of the sensor with applied pressure, improving the sensing ability. Small pressures of human pulse and voice vibration can be detected with this sensitive pressure sensor. A machine learning classification model was implemented to recognize human’s speech where the prediction accuracy on a test dataset is > 90%. The ultrathin fibrous sensor (53 �m) is capable of high-resolution detection, and suitable as a comfortable and fashionable thread substitute for real wearable devices.

The combined properties of BSEP with the proof-of-concept developments of rewritable paper, smart windows and wearable sensors demonstrate its potential for real-world applications. And an outlook for future research and suggested improvements for commercialization are discussed in the conclusion.

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