Shape-programmable magnetic soft matter

Guo Zhan Lum, Zhou Ye, Xiaoguang Dong, Hamidreza Marvi, Onder Erin, Wenqi Hu, Metin Sitti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

399 Scopus citations


Shape-programmable matter is a class of active materials whose geometry can be controlled to potentially achieve mechanical functionalities beyond those of traditional machines. Among these materials, magnetically actuated matter is particularly promising for achieving complex time-varying shapes at small scale (overall dimensions smaller than 1 cm). However, previous work can only program these materials for limited applications, as they rely solely on human intuition to approximate the required magnetization profile and actuating magnetic fields for their materials. Here, we propose a universal programming methodology that can automatically generate the required magnetization profile and actuating fields for soft matter to achieve new time-varying shapes. The universality of the proposed method can therefore inspire a vast number of miniature soft devices that are critical in robotics, smart engineering surfaces and materials, and biomedical devices. Our proposed method includes theoretical formulations, computational strategies, and fabrication procedures for programming magnetic soft matter. The presented theory and computational method are universal for programming 2D or 3D time-varying shapes, whereas the fabrication technique is generic only for creating planar beams. Based on the proposed programming method, we created a jellyfish-like robot, a spermatozoid-like undulating swimmer, and an artificial cilium that could mimic the complex beating patterns of its biological counterpart.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E6007-E6015
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 11 2016


  • Magnetic actuation
  • Miniature devices
  • Multifunctional materials
  • Programmable matter
  • Soft robots

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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