Critical technologies from medicine to defense are highly dependent on advanced composite materials. Increasingly there is a greater demand for materials with expanded functionality. The state of the art includes a wide range of responsive composites capable of impressive structural feats such as externally triggered shape morphing. Here a different composite concept is presented, one in which a portion of the constituent materials feed off of ambient energy and dynamically couple to convert it to mechanical motion in a cooperative, biomimetic fashion. Using a recently developed self-oscillating gel based on gelatin and the oscillating Belousov–Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction, a technique is demonstrated for producing continuous patterned heterogeneous BZ hydrogel composites capable of sustained autonomic function. The coupling between two adjacent reactive patches is demonstrated in an autonomic cantilever actuator which converts chemical energy into amplified mechanical motion. The design of heterogeneous BZ gels for motion using a basic finite element model is discussed. This work represents notable progress toward developing internally responsive, bio-inspired composite materials for constructing modular autonomic morphing structures and devices.
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