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A shifting field

The squishy, moldable materials that the team’s magnetically activated structures are made of fall into the general category of soft actuated devices. These devices are designed to change shape or move through a variety of mechanical means.

Hydrogel devices, for instance, expand when the pH or temperature change;shape-memory polymers and liquid crystal elastomers deform when exposed to a sufficient amount of heat or light;Pumping water or air into pneumatic and hydraulic devices can activate them;Additionally, electric voltages cause dielectric elastomers to stretch.

However, liquid crystal elastomers, shape-memory polymers, and hydrogels respond slowly and change shape in minutes to hours.Devices powered by air or water require tubes to connect to pumps, making them inefficient for applications that can be controlled remotely.Dielectric elastomers need voltages that are usually higher than 1,000 volts.