Light-responsive soft material from Northwestern University has peptide arrays that contract and expand, creating movement.


  • Versatile
  • Controllable
  • Dynamic


  • Medical treatment
  • Environmental clean-up
  • Autonomous repairs

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 9: Industry Innovation & Infrastructure

The Challenge

Non-living objects are often inanimate because they are not made of living cells that communicate with each other. Additionally, they are usually made of stiff materials that are inflexible. In order to get this type of object to move, it often requires large amounts of electricity or complex hardware.

Innovation Details

The soft robotic material mimics the way muscles contract and relax to allow for movement. The material is made of nanoscale assemblies and networks that are activated by blue light. The peptides are designed to drain water molecules out of the material, helping during the movement process. When light hits the material, the polymer network shifts to become hydrophobic (water-repelling). This shift causes the material to push out water through the peptide assemblies, causing a contraction. When the light is turned off, the process is reversed, and the material relaxes. When the material alternates between contraction and relaxation, it moves in a controllable forward motion.

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