Research Highlights

Smart organic crystals for gears, valves and nanocircuits

Published online 29 May 2018

Scientists create a new brand of bendable, self-healing single crystals.

Biplab Das

A joint research team from the United Arab Emirates and India created organic crystals that can bend and twist from heat or light, and then recover from both without cracking – properties that, so far, haven’t been previously demonstrated in single crystals. 

“With such crystals, one could think of applications that range from making devices with miniature moving parts such as gears, valves and ratchets in microfluidics to active components in soft robots, dynamic systems that do not include any metal parts,” says Pance Naumov, associate professor of chemistry at New York University Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and co-author of the study1.

The crystals, shaped like needles and blocks, can potentially be used in making nanoelectrical circuits where the key components are rapidly moving organic materials, he adds.  

They’re prepared by slowly evaporating two organic compounds from a solution of an organic compound. When heated, the crystals twisted and when cooled, they reverted to their original shape, without any damage. They reacted similarly to mechanical stress, and ultraviolet light.

The researchers attribute such flexibility to weak intermolecular interactions between the building blocks of the crystals, allowing them to heal heat- and light-induced structural deformities on their own.  


  1. Gupta, P. et al. All-in-one: thermally twistable, photobendable, elastically deformable and self-healable soft crystal.  Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. (2018)