Translucent crystals against black background

Organic crystals might serve as smart engineering materials

Image credit: Photo 56468817 / Crystals © Stephan Pietzko |

NYU Abu Dhabi researchers have demonstrated how organic crystals can serve as energy converters for emerging technologies

Organic crystals might be the key to meeting the energy conversion needs of advanced technologies. 

While these dynamic materials were previously thought to be fragile, a team of researchers at the NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Smart Materials Lab have discovered that some organic crystals are mechanically very robust, and able to serve as efficient and sustainable energy conversion materials for robotics and electronics.

In the article published by the journal Nature Communications, the team led by NYUAD Professor of Chemistry Panče Naumov explains the process of developing a record-breaking material, which can change shape without losing its ordered structure.

This new organic crystalline material can expand and contract over half of its length (51 per cent) repeatedly, over thousands of cycles, without any deterioration, in a similar way to plastics and rubber. It was also able to undergo this process at room temperature, unlike other materials that require a higher temperature to transform, creating higher energy costs for operation.

“Our work has shown that organic crystals can not only meet the needs of the emerging technologies, but in some cases can also surpass the levels of efficiency and sustainability of other, more common materials,” said Naumov.

As the fields of robotics and electronics advance, new technologies will require materials that are lightweight, resilient to damage and efficient in performance. Additional qualities such as mechanical flexibility and ability to operate with minimal energy consumption will also be very sought-after. Certain organic crystalline materials might need all these needs.

This research paves the way for the development of electronics products made from soft and organic materials, leaving behind the stiffness, heaviness and brittleness of silicon and silica-based components.

The discovery builds on years of research from NYUAD researchers on the untapped potential of this class of materials, which includes adaptive crystals, self-healing crystals, and organic crystalline materials with shape memory. Eventually, these could have a transformative impact in the development of soft robotics, artificial muscles, organic optics, and organic electronics.

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