A Tough and Stiff Hydrogel with Tunable Water Content and Mechanical Properties Based on the Synergistic Effect...
Xin Ning Zhang, Yan Jie Wang, Shengtong Sun, Lei Hou, Peiyi Wu, Zi Liang Wu*, and Qiang Zheng. A Tough and Stiff Hydrogel with Tunable Water Content and Mechanical Properties Based on the Synergistic Effect of Hydrogen Bonding and Hydrophobic Interaction. Macromolecules 2018, 51, 8136-8146.
Hydrogels are usually recognized as soft and weak materials, the poor mechanical properties of which greatly limit their applications as structural elements. Designing of hydrogels with high strength and high modulus has both fundamental and practical significances. Herein we report a series of tough, stiff, and transparent hydrogels facilely prepared by copolymerization of 1-vinylimidazole and methacrylic acid in dimethyl sulfoxide followed by solvent exchange to water. The equilibrated hydrogels with water content of 50–60 wt % possessed excellent mechanical properties, with tensile breaking stress, breaking strain, Young’s modulus, and tearing fracture energy of 1.3–5.4 MPa, 40–330%, 20–170 MPa, and 600–4500 J/m2, respectively. These tough hydrogels were also stable over a wide pH range (2 ≤ pH ≤ 10), resulting from the formation of dense and robust hydrogen bonds between imidazole and carboxylic acid groups. Moreover, the water content and mechanical properties of one gel can be adjusted over a wide range by controlling the dissociation and re-formation of hydrogen bonds during the solvent exchange and heating process; the treated hydrogel with specific characters was stable in water at room temperature. This is because the density of hydrogen bonds can be modulated at high temperature yet immediately fixed at room temperature due to the high stiffness and glassy state of the hydrogel. This strategy to prepare tough and stiff hydrogels should be applicable to other systems as structural materials with promising applications in diverse fields.