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MEMS analogous micro-patterning of thermotropic nematic liquid crystalline elastomer films using a fluorinated photoresist and a hard mask processIn this work, we present a method to pattern liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) in the micrometer range without using any mechanical processing steps to prepare micron sized LCE actuators compatible with microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology. Multi-layer spin-coating processes are developed to synthesise and structure 300–3500 nm thick LCE films. A water soluble sacrificial layer, a photoalignment layer and a LCE formulation, which is polymerised and crosslinked in its liquid crystal phase, are spin-coated successively onto a substrate. A fluorinated photoresist layer is used to structure LCE films with thicknesses up to 700 nm in a photolithographic and etching process. For thicker LCE films a hard mask process, using hydrogen silsesquioxane (HSQ) as hard mask, is used. Film thicknesses and homogeneities are analysed with profilometry. Actuation motions of LCE layers are investigated before and after patterning and LCE patterns are investigated via (polarised optical) microscopy (POM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and profilometry. A resolution of 1.5–2.0 microns is achieved with the described techniques, which make deformable micron sized LCE actuators of variable shape and director orientation accessible. The presented results demonstrate the potential of LCEs in MEMS devices.
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Soft, stretchable sensors, such as artificial skins or tactile sensors, are attractive for numerous soft robotic applications due to the low material compliance. Conductive polymers are a necessary component of many soft sensors, and this work presents the electromechanical characterization of 3D-printable conductive polymer composites. Dog-bone shaped samples were 3D printed using a digital light processing (DLP)-based 3D printer for characterization. The 3D printable resin consists of monomer, crosslinker, conductive nano-filler, and a photo-initiator. The characterization was performed in two tracks. First, the effect of two different crosslinkers was investigated with different compositions and second, the effect of concentration of conductive nano-fillers was explored. Crosslinkers were chosen by referring to previous studies, and carbon nanotubes (CNTs) were utilized as conductive nano-fillers. The samples were 3D printed and characterized using an electromechanical test setup. To demonstrate utility for 3D printed soft robotics, a capacitance-based joystick sensor composed of both conductive and non-conductive resins was 3D printed.
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