Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering

First Committee Member

Kwang J. Kim

Second Committee Member

Woosoon Yim

Third Committee Member

Hui Zhao

Fourth Committee Member

David Lee

Fifth Committee Member

Daniel Gerrity

Number of Pages



Development of biomimetic actuators has been an essential motivation in the study of smart materials. However, few materials are capable of controlling complex twisting and bending deformations simultaneously or separately using a dynamic control system. The ionic polymer-metal composite (IPMC) is an emerging smart material in actuation and sensing applications, such as biomimetic robotics, advanced medical devices and human affinity applications. Here, we report a Multiple Shape Memory Ionic Polymer-Metal Composite (MSM-IPMC) actuator having multiple-shape memory effect, and is able to perform complex motion by two external inputs, electrical and thermal. Prior to the development of this type of actuator, this capability only could be realized with existing actuator technologies by using multiple actuators or another robotic system. Theoretical and experimental investigation on the MSM-IPMC actuator were performed.

To date, the effect of the surface electrode properties change on the actuating of IPMC have not been well studied. To address this problem, we theoretically predict and experimentally investigate the dynamic electro-mechanical response of the IPMC thin-strip actuator. A model of the IPMC actuator is proposed based on the Poisson-Nernst-Planck equations for ion transport and charge dynamics in the polymer membrane, while a physical model for the change of surface resistance of the electrodes of the IPMC due to deformation is also incorporated. By incorporating these two models, a complete, dynamic, physics-based model for IPMC actuators is presented. To verify the model, IPMC samples were prepared and experiments were conducted. The results show that the theoretical model can accurately predict the actuating performance of IPMC actuators over a range of dynamic conditions. Additionally, the charge dynamics inside the polymer during the oscillation of the IPMC are presented. It is also shown that the charge at the boundary mainly affects the induced stress of the IPMC. This study is beneficial for the comprehensive understanding of the surface electrode effect on the performance of IPMC actuators.

In our study, we introduce a soft MSM-IPMC actuator having multiple degrees-of-freedom that demonstrates high maneuverability when controlled by two external inputs, electrical and thermal. These multiple inputs allow for complex motions that are routine in nature, but that would be otherwise difficult to obtain with a single actuator. To the best of our knowledge, this MSM-IPMC actuator is the first solitary actuator capable of multiple-input control and the resulting deformability and maneuverability.

The shape memory properties of MSM-IPMC were theoretically and experimentally studied. We presented the multiple shape memory properties of Nafion cylinder. A physics based model of the IPMC was proposed. The free energy density theory was utilized to analyze the shape properties of the IPMC. To verify the model, IPMC samples with the Nafion as the base membrane was prepared and experiments were conducted. Simulation of the model was performed and the results were compared with the experimental data. It was successfully demonstrated that the theoretical model can well explain the shape memory properties of the IPMC. The results showed that the reheat glass transition temperature of the IPMC is lower than the programming temperature. It was also found that the back-relaxation of the IPMC decreases as the programming temperature increases. This study may be useful for the better understanding of the shape memory effect of IPMC.

Furthermore, we theoretically modeled and experimentally investigated the multiple shape memory effect of MSM-IPMC. We proposed a new physical principle to explain the shape memory behavior. A theoretical model of the multiple shape memory effect of MSM-IPMC was developed. Based on our previous study on the electro-mechanical actuation effect of IPMC, we proposed a comprehensive physics-based model of MSM-IPMC which couples the actuation effect and the multiple shape memory effect. It is the first model that includes these two actuation effects and multiple shape memory effect. Simulation of the model was performed using finite element method. To verify the model, an MSM-IPMC sample was prepared. Experimental tests of MSM-IPMC were conducted. By comparing the simulation results and the experimental results, both results have a good agreement. The multiple shape memory effect and reversibility of three different polymers, namely the Nafion, Aquivion and GEFC with three different ions, which are the hydrogen, lithium and sodium, were also quantitatively tested respectively. Based on the results, it is shown that all the polymers have good multiple shape memory effect and reversibility. The ions have an influence on the broad glass transition range of the polymers. The current study is beneficial for the better understanding of the underlying physics of MSM-IPMC.

A biomimetic underwater robot, that was actuated by the MSM-IPMC, was developed. The design of the robot was inspired by the pectoral fish swimming modes, such as stingrays, knifefish and cuttefish. The robot was actuated by two soft fins which were consisted of multiple IPMC samples. Through actuating the IPMCs separately, traveling wave was generated on the soft fin. Experiments were performed for the test of the robot. The deformation and the blocking force of the IPMCs on the fin were measured. A force measurement system in a flow channel was implemented. The thrust force of the robot under different frequencies and traveling wave numbers were recorded. Multiple shape memory effect was performed on the robot. The robot was capable of changing its swimming modes from Gymnotiform to Mobuliform, which has high deformability, maneuverability and agility.


Actuator; Biomimetic robot; Ionic polymer-metal composite; Multiple shape memory effect; Physical modeling


Engineering | Mechanical Engineering