Universal inverse design of surfaces with thin nematic elastomer sheets

The Yang lab and collaborators transform a two-dimension sheets made from liquid crystal elastomers into complex three-dimensional geometries, such as a human face, with heat. This work outlines an explicit protocol for preprogramming any desired 3D shape into a 2D liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) sheet. Namely, given an arbitrary 3D design, we show how to produce a flat sheet that can buckle into the desired shape when heated and return to flat when cooled—reversibly. We demonstrate this proof-of-principle of shape morphing in LCE sheets, relying on advances in both numerical and experimental methods presented here. Our protocol is not limited in materials or scale; it can be implemented on any “LCE-like” anisotropic material, thus opening the door for countless technological applications in flexible electronics, metamaterials, aerospace, medical devices, drug delivery, and more.