• molecular crystals;
  • nanostructures;
  • photochemistry;
  • photochromism;
  • photomechanics


Organic molecules can transform photons into Angstrom-scale motions by undergoing photochemical reactions. Ordered media, for example, liquid crystals or molecular crystals, can align these molecular-scale motions to produce motion on much larger (micron to millimeter) length scales. In this Review, we describe the basic principles that underlie organic photomechanical materials, starting with a brief survey of molecular photochromic systems that have been used as elements of photomechanical materials. We then describe various options for incorporating these active elements into a solid-state material, including dispersal in a polymer matrix, covalent attachment to a polymer chain, or self-assembly into molecular crystals. Particular emphasis is placed on ordered media, such as liquid-crystal elastomers and molecular crystals, that have been shown to produce motion on large (micron to millimeter) length scales. We also discuss other mechanisms for generating photomechanical motion that do not involve photochemical reactions, such as photothermal expansion and photoinduced charge transfer. Finally, we identify areas for future research, ranging from the study of basic phenomena in solid-state photochemistry, to molecular and host matrix design, and the optimization of photoexcitation conditions. The ultimate realization of photon-fueled micromachines will likely involve advances spanning the disciplines of chemistry, physics and engineering.