Synthetic growth by self-lubricated photopolymerization and extrusion inspired by plants and fungi

Matthew M. Hausladen, Boran Zhao, Matthew S. Kubala, Lorraine F. Francis, Timothy M. Kowalewski, Christopher J. Ellison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Many natural organisms, such as fungal hyphae and plant roots, grow at their tips, enabling the generation of complex bodies composed of natural materials as well as dexterous movement and exploration. Tip growth presents an exemplary process by which materials synthesis and actuation are coupled, providing a blueprint for how growth could be realized in a synthetic system. Herein, we identify three underlying principles essential to tip-based growth of biological organisms: a fluid pressure driving force, localized polymerization for generating structure, and fluid-mediated transport of constituent materials. In this work, these evolved features inspire a synthetic materials growth process called extrusion by self-lubricated interface photopolymerization (E-SLIP), which can continuously fabricate solid profiled polymer parts with tunable mechanical properties from liquid precursors. To demonstrate the utility of E-SLIP, we create a tip-growing soft robot, outline its fundamental governing principles, and highlight its capabilities for growth at speeds up to 12 cm/min and lengths up to 1.5 m. This growing soft robot is capable of executing a range of tasks, including exploration, burrowing, and traversing tortuous paths, which highlight the potential for synthetic growth as a platform for on-demand manufacturing of infrastructure, exploration, and sensing in a variety of environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2201776119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 16 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. M.M.H. acknowledges partial support from a 3M Graduate Fellowship. M.S.K. acknowledges support from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This work was supported by the NSF (grant # EFMA-1830950). We thank Carter Smith for helping with the burrowing and tortuosity experiments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • biomimetics
  • extrusion
  • photopolymerization
  • soft robotics
  • synthetic growth


Dive into the research topics of 'Synthetic growth by self-lubricated photopolymerization and extrusion inspired by plants and fungi'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this