Multi-scale multi-mechanism design of tough hydrogels: building dissipation into stretchy networks
As swollen polymer networks in water, hydrogels are usually brittle. However, hydrogels with high toughness play critical roles in many plant and animal tissues as well as in diverse engineering applications. Here we review the intrinsic mechanisms of a wide variety of tough hydrogels developed over the past few decades. We show that tough hydrogels generally possess mechanisms to dissipate substantial mechanical energy but still maintain high elasticity under deformation. The integrations and interactions of different mechanisms for dissipating energy and maintaining elasticity are essential to the design of tough hydrogels. A matrix that combines various mechanisms is constructed for the first time to guide the design of next-generation tough hydrogels. We further highlight that a particularly promising strategy for the design is to implement multiple mechanisms across multiple length scales into nano-, micro-, meso-, and macro-structures of hydrogels.