Microstructural, mechanical and mass transport properties of isotropic and capillary alginate gels
Macroscopically homogeneous and inhomogeneous calcium alginate gels are formed via internal or external addition of various amounts of calcium to an alginate solution. The externally formed gels contain parallel aligned capillary structures. The mechanical and mass transport properties and the microstructure of the differently set gels were characterized by rheological measurements, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). TEM images show a zone of distorted anisotropic gel structure in the vicinity of the capillaries as well as indications of a lower degree of void connectivity. The diffusion rates of dextran at large distances from the capillaries were fast and capillary gels showed a plastic behaviour in comparison to the internally set gels. The results presented show large functional differences between the internally and externally set gels, which cannot be explained by the presence of capillaries alone.