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Nonreciprocal oscillations of polyelectrolyte gel filaments subject to a steady and uniform electric field

TitleNonreciprocal oscillations of polyelectrolyte gel filaments subject to a steady and uniform electric field
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsCicconofri, G, Damioli, V, Noselli, G
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids

Soft actuators typically require time-varying or spatially modulated control to be operationally effective. The scope of the present paper is to show, theoretically and experimentally, that a natural way to overcome this limitation is to exploit mechanical instabilities. We report experiments on active filaments of polyelectrolyte (PE) gels subject to a steady and uniform electric field. A large enough intensity of the field initiates the motion of the active filaments, leading to periodic oscillations. We develop a mathematical model based on morphoelasticity theory for PE gel filaments beating in a viscous fluid, and carry out the stability analysis of the governing equations to show the emergence of flutter and divergence instabilities for suitable values of the system’s parameters. We confirm the results of the stability analysis with numerical simulations for the nonlinear equations of motion to show that such instabilities may lead to periodic self-sustained oscillations, in agreement with experiments. The key mechanism that underlies such behaviour is the capability of the filament to undergo active shape changes depending on its local orientation relative to the external electric field, in striking similarity with gravitropism, the mechanism that drives shape changes in plants via differential growth induced by gravity. Interestingly, the resulting oscillations are nonreciprocal in nature, and hence able to generate thrust and directed flow at low Reynolds number. The exploitation of mechanical instabilities in soft actuators represents a new avenue for the advancement in engineering design in fields such as micro-robotics and micro-fluidics.


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