Transpiration actuation: the design, fabrication and characterization of biomimetic microactuators driven by the surface tension of water
We have designed, fabricated and characterized large displacement distributed-force polymer actuators driven only by the surface tension of water. The devices were inspired by the hygroscopic spore dispersal mechanism in fern sporangia. Microdevices were fabricated through a single mask process using a commercial photo-patternable silicone polymer to mimic the mechanical characteristics of plant cellulose. An analytical model for predicting the microactuator behavior was developed using the principle of virtual work, and a variety of designs were simulated and compared to the empirical data. Fabricated devices experienced tip deflections of more than 3.5 mm and angular rotations of more than 330° due to the surface tension of water. The devices generated forces per unit length of 5.75 mN m-1 to 67.75 mN m-1. We show initial results indicating that the transient water-driven deflections can be manipulated to generate devices that self-assemble into stable configurations. Our model shows that devices should scale well into the submicron regime. Lastly, the actuation mechanism presented may provide a robust method for embedding geometry-programmable and environment-scavenged force generation into common materials.