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Scalable optical manufacture of dynamic structural colour in stretchable materials

Abstract

Structurally coloured materials that change their colour in response to mechanical stimuli are uniquely suited for optical sensing and visual communication1,2,3,4. The main barrier to their widespread adoption is a lack of manufacturing techniques that offer spatial control of the materials’ nanoscale structures across macroscale areas. Here, by adapting Lippmann photography5, we report an approach for producing large-area, structurally coloured sheets with a rich and easily controlled design space of colour patterns, spectral properties, angular scattering characteristics and responses to mechanical stimuli. Relying on just a digital projector and commercially available photosensitive elastomers, our approach is fast, scalable, affordable and relevant for a wide range of manufacturing settings. We also demonstrate prototypes for mechanosensitive healthcare materials and colorimetric strain and stress sensing for human–computer interaction and robotics.

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Fig. 1: Optical manufacture of stretchable colour-changing materials at the macroscale.
Fig. 2: Controlling the spatial colour distribution and dynamics.
Fig. 3: Near-infrared structural colours and tailored scattering characteristics.
Fig. 4: Colorimetric mechanosensing.

Data availability

All data are available in the Letter or Supplementary information.

Code availability

All MATLAB codes used to determine the material’s peak reflection wavelength and angular distribution, model its optical characteristics to compare with experimental results and predict optical performance, and the code used to convert hue into strain and stress, are available for download from https://github.com/BHMMIT/dynamic-structural-colour.’ with the url ‘https://github.com/BHMMIT/dynamic-structural-colour’ linked.

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Acknowledgements

B.M., H.L. and M.K. were supported by a Stepping Strong Innovator Award from the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the National Science Foundation through the ‘Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future’ program (DMREF-1922321), an ignition grant from the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, a Samsung Global Research Opportunities Grant and the MIT ME MathWorks seed fund.

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Authors

Contributions

B.M. and M.K. developed the concept for the research. B.M., H.L. and M.K. conducted the experiments. B.M. and M.K. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. All authors revised the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mathias Kolle.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information

Nature Materials thanks Seung Hwan Ko, Yukikazu Takeoka and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussions 1–5, Figs. 1–16 and captions for Videos 1–7.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Visualization of the time evolution of the standing-wave field generated upon reflection of an incident light wave from a mirror. The light waves shown in the video have a centre wavelength of 633 nm and a spectral bandwidth of 5 nm in the first section of the movie and 100 nm in the second section. The incidence angle is 15°.

Supplementary Video 2

Real-time video capturing the stretching of an 8 × 6 inch structural colour pattern, showing the dynamic colour variation in response to the applied strain. Still frames of this video are shown in Fig. 1b.

Supplementary Video 3

Real-time video capturing the stretching of an 8 × 6 inch structural colour pattern that features a flower bouquet in homage to Lippmann’s work.

Supplementary Video 4

Real-time stretching of a red structural colour sample with a patterned backing-layer thickness. Thinner areas experience larger strains with correspondingly larger colour travel. Still frames of this video are shown in Fig. 2j.

Supplementary Video 5

Real-time stretching of a structural colour pattern with an infrared region. This sample was developed under light exposure at an angle leading to a redshift of the resulting structural colours with respect to the exposure spectrum. The sample exhibits a dark zone in between a green square and a red border. The infrared reflection peak in the dark zone shifts into the visible spectrum when the pattern is stretched. Still frames of this video are shown in Fig. 3c.

Supplementary Video 6

Real-time stretching of the structural colour material integrated as a colorimetric pressure sensor in a bandage. Still images of the bandages used as compression wraps that indicate the pressure and pressure gradients are shown in Fig. 4a. The video was acquired outdoors to demonstrate the robust colour response under natural lighting.

Supplementary Video 7

Real-time recording of a structural colour sample used as a compression sensor that captures the tapping of fingertips on the material. This video demonstrates the rapid response time of the material and hints at opportunities to detect complex, delicate gestures in human–computer interaction scenarios, in conjunction with passive haptic feedback and force-sensitive multi-touch input.

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Miller, B.H., Liu, H. & Kolle, M. Scalable optical manufacture of dynamic structural colour in stretchable materials. Nat. Mater. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-022-01318-x

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