Shape-Memory Effect by Sequential Coupling of Functions over Different Length Scales in an Architectured Hydrogel


The integration of functions in materials in order to gain macroscopic effects in response to environmental changes is an ongoing challenge in material science. Here, functions on different hierarchical levels are sequentially linked to translate a pH-triggered conformational transition from the molecular to the macroscopic level to induce directed movements in hydrogels. When the pH is increased, lysine-rich peptide molecules change their conformation into a β-hairpin structure because of the reduced electrostatic repulsion among the deprotonated amino groups. Coupled to this conformation change is the capability of the β-hairpin motifs to subsequently assemble into aggregates acting as reversible cross-links, which are used as controlling units to fix a temporary macroscopic shape. A structural function implemented into the hydrogel by a microporous architecture-enabled nondisruptive deformation upon compression by buckling of pore walls and their elastic recovery. Coupled to this structural function is the capability of the porous material to enhance the diffusion of ions into the hydrogel and to keep the dimension of the macroscopic systems almost constant when the additional cross-links are formed or cleaved as it limits the dimensional change of the pore walls. Covalent cross-linking of the hydrogel into a polymer network acted as gear shift to ensure translation of the function on the molecular level to the macroscopic dimension. In this way, the information of a directed shape-shift can be programmed into the material by mechanical deformation and pH-dependent formation of temporary net points. The information could be read out by lowering the pH. The peptides reverted back into their original random coil conformation and the porous polymer network could recover from the previously applied elastic deformation. The level of multifunctionality of the hydrogels can be increased by implementation of additional orthogonal functions such as antimicrobicity by proper selection of multifunctional peptides, which could enable sophisticated biomedical devices.
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