Melt-Processable Shape-Memory Hydrogels with Self-Healing Ability of High Mechanical Strength


We present here a synthetic strategy for the preparation of melt-processable shape-memory hydrogels with self-healing ability. The supramolecular hydrogel with a water content of 60–80 wt % consists of poly(acrylic acid) chains containing 20–50 mol % crystallizable n-octadecyl acrylate (C18A) segments together with surfactant micelles. The key of our approach to render the hydrogel melt-processable is the absence of chemical cross-links and the presence of surfactant micelles. At temperatures above the melting temperature Tm of the crystalline domains of alkyl side chains, the hydrogel liquefies due to the presence of surfactant micelles effective for solubilizing the hydrophobic C18A segments. At this stage, it can easily be shaped into any desired form by pouring into molds. Cooling below Tm and removing the surfactant from the gel network results in a hydrogel of any permanent shape with a particularly high compressive strength of 90 MPa and a Young’s modulus of 26 MPa. If the hydrogel was damaged on purpose e.g. by cutting into two pieces, the extraordinary mechanical properties can completely be recovered via temperature-induced healing process. The hydrogel also exhibits a complete shape fixity ratio and a shape recovery ratio of 97 ± 2%.
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