Soft-matter composites with electrically tunable elastic rigidity

Wanliang Shan, Tong Lu, Carmel Majidi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

182 Scopus citations


We use a phase-changing metal alloy to reversibly tune the elastic rigidity of an elastomer composite. The elastomer is embedded with a sheet of low-melting-point Field's metal and an electric Joule heater composed of a serpentine channel of liquid-phase gallium-indium-tin (Galinstan ®) alloy. At room temperature, the embedded Field's metal is solid and the composite remains elastically rigid. Joule heating causes the Field's metal to melt and allows the surrounding elastomer to freely stretch and bend. Using a tensile testing machine, we measure that the effective elastic modulus of the composite reversibly changes by four orders of magnitude when powered on and off. This dramatic change in rigidity is accurately predicted with a model for an elastic composite. Reversible rigidity control is also accomplished by replacing the Field's metal with shape memory polymer. In addition to demonstrating electrically tunable rigidity with an elastomer, we also introduce a new technique to rapidly produce soft-matter electronics and multifunctional materials in several minutes with laser-patterned adhesive film and masked deposition of liquid-phase metal alloy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number085005
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Signal Processing
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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