Light Makes New Material Creep Like a Caterpillar

Jun 29, 2017

By Mindy Weisberger

It’s aliiiiiiive! Well, maybe not. But when activated by light, a new type of polymer — a material made of long chains of molecules — can inch along just like a caterpillar.

Scientists developed the light-sensitive substance and coaxed a small strip of it to “walk” by exposing it to a fixed light source.

The spotlight made one side of the paper-clip-sized material contract while the other side expanded, producing an undulating movement that carried it forward, the researchers reported in a recent study.

The secret to this groundbreaking light-activated locomotion lies in the liquid crystal network (LCN) in the polymer. LCNs are known for their ability to deform materials when exposed to light, but prior studies had only examined their ability to warp materials, not move them forward or backward, the scientists wrote in the study.

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