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Surface molding of multi-stimuli-responsive microgel actuators


The fabrication of soft hydrogel actuators that rapidly respond to multiple stimuli in ambient environments is a challenge. This article describes a method—based on surface molding—to generate multi-stimuli-responsive soft actuators consisting of arrays of geometrically patterned hydrogels on elastomeric supports. The stimuli-responsive properties of these actuators were derived from functional fillers that were added directly to the prepolymer or synthesized within the gels using simple reactions. These actuators respond rapidly and can be rationally controlled by a variety of stimuli, including humidity, magnetic fields, or light, depending on the filler type. The reported fabrication strategies will be useful to the design and production of “programmable” soft actuator systems useful to, for example, soft robotics.

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Data availability

The data sets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank the Department of Chemistry and the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience (NCMN) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for start-up funds. S.A.M. thanks 3M for support through a Non-Tenured Faculty Award. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1555356. This research was performed in part at the Nebraska Nanoscale Facility: National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure and NCMN, which are supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. ECCS:1542182, and the Nebraska Research Initiative.

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Correspondence to Stephen A. Morin.

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Bowen, J.J., Rose, M.A. & Morin, S.A. Surface molding of multi-stimuli-responsive microgel actuators. MRS Bulletin 46, 337–344 (2021).

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  • Actuation
  • Surface chemistry
  • Microstructure
  • Robotics
  • Spray deposition