Modeling the Behavior of Photomechanical Materials

Student Author(s)

Andrew Sicard

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Matthew Smith

Document Type


Event Date



Photomechanical materials experience strains in response to light of certain wavelengths. These remotely triggered, photo-induced strains lead to large-scale deformations, presenting significant opportunities for wireless actuators and light-driven morphing structures. Because of the difficulty in fabricating complex geometries with these materials, a tool for predicting the behavior of these materials without extensive testing would aid in the design of photomechanical devices. The goal of this project was to implement a method for the modeling of photomechanical materials and use it to explore a variety of material geometries. The modeling performed in this research project was done using COMSOL, a finite element analysis program that contains a versatile equation-based modeling feature. By adding equations to COMSOL for the strains generated upon application of light, the behavior of these materials was effectively modeled. Back and forth snap-toggling was simulated for a strip of photomechanical material asymmetrically buckled over a fixed pin and illuminated on one side. In this simulation, a transition between two stable buckling modes was observed. These results show the importance of considering contact conditions when designing with these materials and lay a foundation for designing light-driven actuators in which boundary conditions increase the complexity of motion. The modeling approach for photomechanical materials utilized in this project has already provided valuable design insight and shows great promise as a versatile design tool for future light responsive applications.


This material is based on work supported by the Hope College Department of Engineering and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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