Giant voltage-induced deformation in dielectric elastomers near the verge of snap-through instability

Dielectric elastomers are capable of large voltage-induced deformation, but achieving such large deformation in practice has been a major challenge due to electromechanical instability and electric breakdown. The complex nonlinear behavior suggests an important opportunity: electromechanical instability can be harnessed to achieve giant voltage-induced deformation. We introduce the following principle of operation: place a dielectric elastomer near the verge of snap-through instability, trigger the instability with voltage, and bend the snap-through path to avert electric breakdown. We demonstrate this principle of operation with a commonly used experimental setup—a dielectric membrane mounted on a chamber of air. The behavior of the membrane can be changed dramatically by varying parameters such as the initial pressure in the chamber, the volume of the chamber, and the prestretch of the membrane. We use a computational model to analyze inhomogeneous deformation and map out bifurcation diagrams to guide the experiment. With suitable values of the parameters, we obtain giant voltage-induced expansion of area by 1692%, far beyond the largest value reported in the literature.


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