Active Elastocapillarity in Soft Solids with Negative Surface Tension

March, 2022


Active solids consume energy to allow for actuation, shape change, and wave propagation not possible in equilibrium. Whereas active interfaces have been realized across many experimental systems, control of three-dimensional (3D) bulk materials remains a challenge. Here, we develop continuum theory and microscopic simulations that describe a 3D soft solid whose boundary experiences active surface stresses. The competition between active boundary and elastic bulk yields a broad range of previously unexplored phenomena, which are demonstrations of so-called active elastocapillarity. In contrast to thin shells and vesicles, we discover that bulk 3D elasticity controls snap-through transitions between different anisotropic shapes. These transitions meet at a critical point, allowing a universal classification via Landau theory. In addition, the active surface modifies elastic wave propagation to allow zero, or even negative, group velocities. These phenomena offer robust principles for programming shape change and functionality into active solids, from robotic metamaterials down to shape-shifting nanoparticles.

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