Embedding Intelligence In Materials For Responsive Built Environment: A Topical Review On Liquid Crystal Elastomer Actuators And Sensors

Collaboration with Jan Lagerwall published in Building and Environment.


Liquid Crystal Elastomers (LCEs) are an exciting category of material that has tremendous application potential across a variety of fields, owing to their unique properties that enable both sensing and actuation. To some, LCEs are simply another type of Shape Memory Polymer, while to others they are an interesting on-going scientific experiment. In this visionary article, we bring an interdisciplinary discussion around creative and impactful ways that LCEs can be applied in the Built Environment to support kinematic and kinetic buildings and situational awareness. 

Fig. 3

A wall is composed of LCE coatings that change form at a smaller scale to modify acoustics. The arrows represent sound scattering from an exterior source due to the geometric changes of the wall surface. The inset on the left shows an LCE shell exhibiting reversible buckling upon heating and cooling (from Jampani et al. [39] CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license), as an example of how a ‘bubbly’ texture could be modulated on demand using LCEs for tunable acoustics.

Fig. 6

Concept of a CLCE coated window that flashes a warning when strong winds deform it to a critical level. The ability to show a pattern or image during strain is demonstrated in the two photos.


We focus particularly on the autonomy made possible by using LCEs, potentially removing needs for motors, wiring and tubing, and even enabling fully independent operation in response to natural environment variations, requiring no power sources. To illustrate the potential, we propose a number of concrete application scenarios where LCEs could offer innovative solutions to problems of great societal importance, such as autonomous active ventilation, heliotropic solar panel systems which can also remove snow or sand autonomously, and invisible coatings with strain mapping functionality, alerting residents in case of dangerous (static or dynamic) loads on roofs or windows, as well as assisting building safety inspection teams after earthquakes.