Ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMCs) consist of a polyelectrolyte membrane (usually, Nafion or Flemion) plated on both faces by a noble metal, and is neutralized with certain counter ions that balance the electrical charge of the anions covalently fixed to the backbone membrane. In the hydrated state (or in the presence of other suitable solvents), the composite is a soft actuator and sensor. Its coupled electrical-chemical-mechanical response depends on: (1) the chemical composition and structure of the backbone ionic polymer; (2) the morphology of the metal electrodes; (3) the nature of the cations; and (4) the level of hydration (solvent saturation). A systematic experimental evaluation of the mechanical response of both metal-plated and bare Nafion and Flemion in various cation forms and various water saturation levels has been performed in the author’s laboratories at the University of California, San Diego. By examining the measured stiffness of the Nafion-based composites and the corresponding bare Nafion, under a variety of conditions, I have sought to develop relations between internal forces and the resulting stiffness and deformation of this class of IPMCs. Based on these and through a comparative study of the effects of various cations on the material’s stiffness and response, I have attempted to identify potential micromechanisms responsible for the observed electromechanical behavior of these materials, model them, and compare the model results with experimental data. A summary of these developments is given in the present work. First, a micromechanical model for the calculation of the Young modulus of the bare Nafion or Flemion in various ion forms and water saturation levels is given. Second, the bare-polymer model is modified to include the effect of the metal plating, and the results are applied to calculate the stiffness of the corresponding IPMCs, as a function of the solvent uptake. Finally, guided by the stiffness modeling and- data, the actuation of the Nafion-based IPMCs is micromechanically modeled. Examples of the model results are presented and compared with the measured data.
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