Helical structures are ubiquitous in natural and engineered systems across multiple length scales. Examples include DNA molecules, plants’ tendrils, sea snails’ shells, and spiral nanoribbons. Although this symmetry-breaking shape has shown excellent performance in elastic springs or propulsion generation in a low-Reynolds-number environment, a general principle to produce a helical structure with programmable geometry regardless of length scales is still in demand. In recent years, inspired by the chiral opening of Bauhinia variegata
’s seedpod and the coiling of plant’s tendril, researchers have made significant breakthroughs in synthesizing state-of-the-art 3D helical structures through creating intrinsic curvatures in 2D rod-like or ribbon-like precursors. The intrinsic curvature results from the differential response to a variety of external stimuli of functional materials, such as hydrogels, liquid crystal elastomers, and shape memory polymers. In this review, we give a brief overview of the shape transformation mechanisms of these two plant’s structures and then review recent progress in the fabrication of biomimetic helical structures that are categorized by the stimuli-responsive materials involved. By providing this survey on important recent advances along with our perspectives, we hope to solicit new inspirations and insights on the development and fabrication of helical structures, as well as the future development of interdisciplinary research at the interface of physics, engineering, and biology.
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