Maximizing the performance of photothermal actuators by combining smart materials with supplementary advantages

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Science Advances  21 Apr 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 4, e1602697
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602697

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The search for higher-performance photothermal microactuators has typically involved unavoidable trade-offs that hinder the demonstration of ubiquitous devices with high energy density, speed, flexibility, efficiency, sensitivity, and multifunctionality. Improving some of these parameters often implies deterioration of others. Photothermal actuators are driven by the conversion of absorbed optical energy into thermal energy, which, by different mechanisms, can produce mechanical displacement of a structure. We present a device that has been strategically designed to show high performance in every metric and respond to optical radiation of selected wavelength bands. The device combines the large energy densities and sensitivity of vanadium dioxide (VO2)–based actuators with the wavelength-selective absorption properties of single-walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) films of different chiralities. SWNT coatings increased the speed of VO2 actuators by a factor of 2 while decreasing the power consumption by approximately 50%. Devices coated with metallic SWNT were found to be 1.57 times more responsive to red light than to near-infrared, whereas semiconducting SWNT coatings resulted in 1.42 times higher responsivities to near-infrared light than to red light. The added functionality establishes a link between optical and mechanical domains of high-performance photoactuators and enables the future development of mechanical logic gates and electronic devices that are triggered by optical radiation from different frequency bands.

  • wavelength-selectivity
  • phase-change
  • single-wall CNTs
  • microactuators
  • photothermal
  • smart material

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