Research ArticleSOFT ROBOTS

Bioinspired living structural color hydrogels

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Science Robotics  28 Mar 2018:
Vol. 3, Issue 16, eaar8580
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aar8580


Structural color materials from existing natural organisms have been widely studied to enable artificial manufacture. Variable iridescence has attracted particular interest because of the displays of various brilliant examples. Existing synthetic, variable, structural color materials require external stimuli to provide changing displays, despite autonomous regulation being widespread among natural organisms, and therefore suffer from inherent limitations. Inspired by the structural color regulation mechanism of chameleons, we present a conceptually different structural color material that has autonomic regulation capability by assembling engineered cardiomyocyte tissues on synthetic inverse opal hydrogel films. The cell elongation and contraction in the beating processes of the cardiomyocytes caused the inverse opal structure of the substrate film to follow the same cycle of volume or morphology changes. This was observed as the synchronous shifting of its photonic band gap and structural colors. Such biohybrid structural color hydrogels can be used to construct a variety of living materials, such as two-dimensional self-regulating structural color patterns and three-dimensional dynamic Morpho butterflies. These examples indicated that the stratagem could provide an intrinsic color-sensing feedback to modify the system behavior/action for future biohybrid robots. In addition, by integrating the biohybrid structural color hydrogels into microfluidics, we developed a “heart-on-a-chip” platform featuring microphysiological visuality for biological research and drug screening. This biohybrid, living, structural color hydrogel may be widely used in the design of a variety of intelligent actuators and soft robotic devices.

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