Thermally-Induced Triple-Shape Hydrogels: Soft Materials Enabling Complex Movements


Shape-memory hydrogels enable directed movements of a specimen in response to temperature, whereby crystallizable switching segments incorporated as side chains resulted in constant degrees of swelling during the shape-memory cycle. Here we report about hydrogels exhibiting a thermally induced triple-shape effect that allows complex movements of soft materials with two almost independent shape changes. Potential applications for those soft triple-shape materials are two-step self-unfolding devices or temperature-sensitive hydrogel actuators, for example, smart valves for flow rate control in aqueous media. Series of hydrogels with two different hydrophobic crystallizable switching segments were prepared. The degrees of swelling of the triple-shape hydrogels were not affected for different shapes or temperatures, which avoided in this way interferences on the shape shifts. During the two-step programming procedure, two distinct shapes can be implemented as reflected by shape fixity ratios of generally >50%. Structural analysis of the switching domains during the triple-shape cycle by means of X-ray scattering indicates that longer side chains gain lower orientation after deformation and that shorter side chains orient perpendicular to the hydrophilic main chain. Furthermore, it is observed that increased orientation of the switching domains is not a key requirement for adequate shape fixity and recovery ratios of the triple-shape effect in hydrogels, thus longer side chains can be utilized as switching segments in other shape-memory hydrogels.
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