Research

Snapping When Swollen

A Venus flytrap plant uses pressure build-up inside its cells to prepare itself to snap shut due to the additional pressure of a fly's footstep.

The Venus flytrap snaps shut on its hapless prey by swelling cells in its leaves with water. Under the added pressure of a fly’s footstep, the leaves’ snapping instability triggers, trapping the insect. Researchers are using similar physics to create jumping and snapping polymer gels, like the one seen below.

This jumping polymer shell exploits snapping that occurs as it dries out.

To trigger the behavior, researchers soaked their polymer-based gel strips and shells in a solvent of n-hexane, which easily permeated the material and made it swell up. As the solvent evaporates from the swollen gel, the polymer material changes shape, sometimes in smooth bends and sometimes in abrupt snaps. The group was able to harness those snaps to have their materials descend slopes and climb ladders — all without motors, batteries, or external sources of energy. (Image credit: plant – A. Dénes, shell – Y. Kim et al.; research credit: Y. Kim et al.; via Physics World)

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