The shell production was carried out on an inverted microscope (Nikon Eclipse LV 100ND), allowing continuous monitoring of the process. The most important technique for characterizing LCs is POM, as the birefringence of the sample reveals a great deal of information about the way in which the molecules order. Hence, postproduction optical characterization of LCE shells was carried out using mainly POM, here, an upright Olympus BX51 working in transmission mode. The actuation sequence was studied by changing the temperature using a Linkam hot stage (TMS 600, T95-PE). The shell actuation was captured using a color camera (EOS 760D, Canon) mounted on the POM. The optical properties in our shells are dominated by the RM257 component, as this is the only aromatic molecule, thus with large polarizability anisotropy. Its rod-like shape means that the polarizability is highest along the molecule long axis. The first-order phase plate (530 nm) was used to confirm the molecular orientation in LCE shells and a ground-state negative order in LCE shells.

To allow thermal actuation in shells cross-linked at 35°C, we cut small holes in, or cut fragments from, several such shells. To allow clean cuts, the LCE shells were transferred to a petri dish containing pure water, and the petri dish was then cooled to −25°C, turning the inner and outer aqueous media to ice. A scalpel was used for cutting the frozen shell in the desired way, either by cutting a hole or removing a small piece of the shell. For studying thermal actuation, the shell with hole or shell fragment was transferred to a glycerol bath. We have used a heating/cooling rate of 30°C/min in all our experiments in this work.

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