Researchers from the University of California San Diego have crafted materials that illuminate upon experiencing mechanical stress, utilizing single-celled algae, dinoflagellates. This project, influenced by the bioluminescent waves during San Diego’s red tide, was detailed in Science Advances recently.
The uniqueness of these materials lies in their ability to convert mechanical stimuli directly into light without external electronics or power sources, as highlighted by Shengqiang Cai, a professor at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
The primary components of these materials are dinoflagellates and an alginate, a seaweed-based polymer. By mixing these ingredients, they created a solution suitable for 3D printing, enabling the production of various structures like grids, spirals, and pyramids. When subjected to forces like compression or twisting, these materials emit light, mirroring the oceanic dinoflagellates’ predator defense mechanism. The emitted light’s intensity directly correlates with the applied stress, and the team formulated a mathematical model predicting this glow’s intensity.
To enhance durability, the researchers incorporated poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate and enveloped the materials with a rubbery polymer named Ecoflex. This made the materials robust and resistant to varying conditions. Minimal upkeep is needed for these materials; they require light-dark cycles to function effectively. Potential applications span from mechanical sensors to soft robotics and biomedical devices.
You can read the research paper titled “Ultrasensitive and robust mechanoluminescent living composites” at this link.
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