We invite you to see the preprint of our new paper “Nonlinear statistical mechanics drives intrinsic electrostriction and volumetric torque in polymer networks” that will appear in Physical Review E. Here we use a nonlinear statistical mechanics approach to the electroelasticity of dielectric polymer chains and obtain a two-way coupling between chain deformation and dielectric response. This two-way coupling leads to electrically induced stresses and volumetric torques within an elastomer network which can be leveraged to develop higher efficiency soft actuators, electroactive materials, and novel electromechanical mechanisms.
Nonlinear statistical mechanics drives intrinsic electrostriction and volumetric torque in polymer networks
Matthew Grasinger, Carmel Majidi, and Kaushik Dayal
Statistical mechanics is an important tool for understanding polymer electroelasticity because the elasticity of polymers is primarily due to entropy. However, a common approach for the statistical mechanics of polymer chains, the Gaussian chain approximation, misses key physics. By considering the nonlinearities of the problem, we show a strong coupling between the deformation of a polymer chain and its dielectric response; that is, its net dipole. When chains with this coupling are cross-linked in an elastomer network and an electric field is applied, the field breaks the symmetry of the elastomer’s elastic properties, and, combined with electrostatic torque and incompressibility, leads to intrinsic electrostriction. Conversely, deformation can break the symmetry of the dielectric response leading to volumetric torque (i.e., a couple stress or torque per unit volume) and asymmetric actuation. Both phenomena have important implications for designing high-efficiency soft actuators and soft electroactive materials; and the presence of mechanisms for volumetric torque, in particular, can be used to develop higher degree of freedom actuators and to achieve bioinspired locomotion.