Quadruple-shape hydrogels


The capability of directed movements by two subsequent shape changes could be implemented in shape-memory hydrogels by incorporation of two types of crystallizable side chains. While in non-swollen polymer networks even more directed movements could be realized, the creation of multi-shape hydrogels is still a challenge. We hypothesize that a quadruple-shape effect in hydrogels can be realized, when a swelling capacity almost independent of temperature is generated, whereby directed movements could be enabled, which are not related to swelling. In this case, entropy elastic recovery could be realized by hydrophilic segments and the fixation of different macroscopic shapes by means of three semi-crystalline side chains generating temporary crosslinks. Monomethacrylated semi-crystalline oligomers were connected as side chains in a hydrophilic polymer network via radical copolymerization. Computer assisted modelling was utilized to design a demonstrator capable of complex shape shifts by creating a casting mold via 3D printing from polyvinyl alcohol. The demonstrator was obtained after copolymerization of polymer network forming components within the mold, which was subsequently dissolved in water. A thermally-induced quadruple-shape effect was realized after equilibrium swelling of the polymer network in water. Three directed movements were successfully obtained when the temperature was continuously increased from 5 °C to 90 °C with a recovery ratio of the original shape above 90%. Hence, a thermally-induced quadruple-shape effect as new record for hydrogels was realized. Here, the temperature range for the multi-shape effect was limited by water as swelling media (0 °C–100 °C), simultaneously distinctly separated thermal transitions were required, and the overall elasticity indispensable for successive deformations was reduced as result of partially chain segment orientation induced by swelling in water. Conclusively the challenges for penta- or hexa-shape gels are the design of systems enabling higher elastic deformability and covering a larger temperature range by switching to a different solvent.
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