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Biomimetic 4D printing


Shape-morphing systems can be found in many areas, including smart textiles1, autonomous robotics2, biomedical devices3, drug delivery4 and tissue engineering5. The natural analogues of such systems are exemplified by nastic plant motions, where a variety of organs such as tendrils, bracts, leaves and flowers respond to environmental stimuli (such as humidity, light or touch) by varying internal turgor, which leads to dynamic conformations governed by the tissue composition and microstructural anisotropy of cell walls6,7,8,9,10. Inspired by these botanical systems, we printed composite hydrogel architectures that are encoded with localized, anisotropic swelling behaviour controlled by the alignment of cellulose fibrils along prescribed four-dimensional printing pathways. When combined with a minimal theoretical framework that allows us to solve the inverse problem of designing the alignment patterns for prescribed target shapes, we can programmably fabricate plant-inspired architectures that change shape on immersion in water, yielding complex three-dimensional morphologies.

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Figure 1: Programming localized anisotropy via biomimetic 4D printing.
Figure 2: Printing simple architectures with precise control over mean and Gaussian curvatures.
Figure 3: Complex flower morphologies generated by biomimetic 4D printing.
Figure 4: Predictive 4D printing of biomimetic architectures.


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A.S.G. and J.A.L. were supported by the Army Research Office Award No. W911NF-13-0489. E.A.M. and L.M. werez supported by the NSF DMR 14-20570, Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, MRSEC and NSF DMREF 15-33985. We thank D. Stepp (ARO), A. Balazs (U. Pittsburgh), M. Brenner (Harvard) and B. Compton for useful discussions. We thank T. Zimmermann and the researchers at the Applied Wood Materials Laboratory at EMPA for providing samples of nanofibrillated cellulose. We also thank D. Kolesky for assistance with confocal imaging, D. Fitzgerald and J. Minardi for help with initial G-code programming, R. Valentin for permission to print a copy of his orchid photograph, and L. K. Sanders for help with photography and videography.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.S.G., R.G.N. and J.A.L. developed the 4D printing concept. A.S.G. designed the ink composition, printed and prepared all samples, obtained photographic images, and characterized alignment, swelling, mechanical and rheological properties. E.A.M. and L.M. developed the theoretical model. E.A.M. rendered and calculated the desired shapes and print paths, and generated the G-code for printing. A.S.G., E.A.M., L.M. and J.A.L. wrote the manuscript. A.S.G. and E.A.M. developed the figures. All authors commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to L. Mahadevan or Jennifer A. Lewis.

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Sydney Gladman, A., Matsumoto, E., Nuzzo, R. et al. Biomimetic 4D printing. Nature Mater 15, 413–418 (2016).

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