Tuning the surface properties of hydrogel at the nanoscale with focused ion irradiation
With the site-specific machining capability of Focused Ion Beam (FIB) irradiation, we aim to tailor the surface morphology and physical attributes of biocompatible hydrogel at the nano/micro scale particularly for tissue engineering and other biomedical studies. Thin films of Gtn–HPA/CMC–Tyr hydrogels were deposited on a gold-coated substrate and were subjected to irradiation with a kiloelectronvolt (keV) gallium ion beam. The sputtering yield, surface morphology and mechanical property changes were investigated using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and Monte Carlo simulations. The sputtering yield of the hydrogel was found to be approximately 0.47 μm3 nC−1 compared with Monte-Carlo simulation results of 0.09 μm3 nC−1. Compared to the surface roughness of the pristine hydrogel at approximately 2 nm, the average surface roughness significantly increased with the increase of ion fluence with measurements extended to 20 nm at 100 pC μm−2. Highly packed submicron porous patterns were also revealed with AFM, while significantly decreased pore sizes and increased porosity were found with ion irradiation at oblique incidence. The Young's modulus of irradiated hydrogel determined using AFM force spectroscopy was revealed to be dependent on ion fluence. Compared to the original Young's modulus value of 20 MPa, irradiation elevated the value to 250 MPa and 350 MPa at 1 pC μm−2 and 100 pC μm−2, respectively. Cell culture studies confirmed that the irradiated hydrogel samples were biocompatible, and the generated nanoscale patterns remained stable under physiological conditions.