Multiresponsive Soft Actuators Based on a Thermoresponsive Hydrogel and Embedded Laser-Induced Graphene

Alexander Dallinger, Paul Kindlhofer, Francesco Greco*, Anna Maria Coclite

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The method of converting insulating polymers into conducting 3D porous graphene structures, so-called laser-induced graphene (LIG) with a commercially available CO2 laser engraving system in an ambient atmosphere, resulted in several applications in sensing, actuation, and energy. In this paper, we demonstrate a combination of LIG and a smart hydrogel (poly(N-vinylcaprolactam) - pNVCL) for multiresponsive actuation in a humid environment. Initiated chemical vapor deposition (iCVD) was used to deposit a thin layer of the smart hydrogel onto a matrix of poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) and embedded LIG tracks. An intriguing property of smart hydrogels, such as pNVCL, is that the change of an external stimulus (temperature, pH, magnetic/electric fields) induces a reversible phase transition from a swollen to a collapsed state. While the active smart hydrogel layer had a thickness of only 300 nm (compared to the 500 times thicker actuator matrix), it was possible to induce a reversible bending of over 30° in the humid environment triggered by Joule heating. The properties of each material were investigated by means of scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Raman spectroscopy, tensile testing, and ellipsometry. The actuation performances of single-responsive versions were investigated by creating a thermoresponsive PDMS/LIG actuator and a humidity-responsive PDMS/pNVCL actuator. These results were used to tune the properties of the multiresponsive PDMS/LIG/pNVCL actuator. Furthermore, its self-sensing capabilities were investigated. By getting a feedback from the piezoresistive change of the PMDS/LIG composite, the bending angle could be tracked by measuring the change in resistance. To highlight the possibilities of the processing techniques and the combination of materials, a demonstrator in the shape of an octopus with four independently controllable arms was developed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1809-1818
Number of pages10
JournalACS Applied Polymer Materials
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2021


  • hygromorphic
  • laser-induced graphene
  • multiresponsive
  • pNVCL
  • smart hydrogel
  • soft actuator

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Organic Chemistry


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