Using porous carbon nanoparticles from waste onion peels, a team of scientists have developed soft robotic actuators with enhanced photomechanical capacity, the Department of Science and Technology said.
The actuators can act as efficient traps for illuminating low-power near-infrared (NIR) light and can convert a control signal into mechanical motion with bio-engineering applications such as drug delivery, wearable and assistive devices, prostheses, and even artificial organs.
Soft robots or actuators consisting of rubber-like polymer with embedded nanomaterial, which convert a source of energy to mechanical motion, have been gaining much interest with targeted applications in areas, including bio-medical, military, and remote space operations.
Generation of pre-designed motion facilitated by their flexibility, affordability, and easy customisation are the main reasons for such interest.
The high thermal conductivity of these nanoforms results in rapid distribution of the heat generated locally by thermal and photo-thermal stimuli, the DST said.
In the research work recently published in the ‘Journal of Nanostructure in Chemistry,’ the porous nano-carbons (PCN) was prepared from waste onion peels by Gurumurthy Hegde at the BMS College of Engineering in Bengaluru, it added.
The specific surface area of the high porosity PCNs were efficient traps for the illuminating low-power near-infrared (NIR) light resulting in the film comprising PCNs and PDMS achieving large magnitude (multi-mm) actuation with fast (sub-second) responses. These features are seldom obtained in single-layer films containing any other carbon nanostructure.
The researchers attribute the heat-trapping capability to the manner in which the PCN is prepared.
Pragnya Satapathy, a senior research fellow, said, “Exhaustive measurements performed show that the photothermal conversion efficiency and the heat-trapping capability is seen to be strongly correlated with the pyrolysis temperature employed for PCN preparation, and thus is an effective control parameter.”
As a value addition, the team also found with an additional ultrathin (30 nm) gold layer, the actuation magnitude could be more than doubled, and more importantly, bidirectional photo-controlled face-sensitive movement was realised.
As a novel application-oriented demonstration of the process, the team fabricated a near-infrared-driven electrical switch, which could activate LED circuits and could be used for other similar applications, it added.