Micron-Scale Soft Actuators Fabricated from Multi-Shell Polystyrene Particle-Gold Nanoparticle Nanohybrids

Nicholas Vishnosky, Jasmine C. Gomez, Spencer T. Kim, Emma J. Doukmak, Jeremy Grafstein, Rachel C. Steinhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Actuators made of soft matter are needed for a variety of fields ranging from biomedical devices to soft robotics to microelectromechanical systems. While there are a variety of excellent methods of soft actuation known, the field is still an area of intense research activity as new niches and needs emerge with new technology development. Here, a soft actuation system is described, based on a core-multi-shell particle, which moves via photothermal expansion. The system consists of a novel polystyrene-based thermally expandable microsphere, with a secondary shell of a silicate-silane graft copolymer, to which gold nanoparticles are covalently linked. The gold nanoparticles act as photothermal nano-transducers, converting light energy into the thermal energy necessary for microsphere expansion, which in turn results in material movement. Actuation is shown in isolated particles in thermal and photothermal regimes using metal ceramic heaters or 520 nm laser illumination, respectively. Macroscale actuation is demonstrated by making a composite material of particles suspended in the transparent elastomer polydimethylsiloxane. The sample demonstrates an inchworm-like movement by starting from an arched geometry. Overall, this work describes a new particle-based actuation method for soft materials, and demonstrates its utility in driving the movement of a composite elastomer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2100222
JournalMacromolecular Materials and Engineering
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • actuators
  • core-shell particles
  • gold nanoparticles
  • nanohybrids
  • nanotransduction
  • photothermal
  • soft materials
  • soft robotics
  • thermally-expandable microparticles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry


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