Coupled instabilities of surface crease and bulk bending during fast free swelling of hydrogels†
Most studies on hydrogel swelling instability have been focused on a constrained boundary condition. In this paper, we studied the mechanical instability of a piece of disc-shaped hydrogel during free swelling. The fast swelling of the gel induces two swelling mismatches; a surface-inner layer mismatch and an annulus-disc mismatch, which lead to the formation of a surface crease pattern and a saddle-like bulk bending, respectively. For the first time, a stripe-like surface crease that is at a right angle on the two surfaces of the gel was observed. This stripe pattern is related to the mechanical coupling of surface instability and bulk bending, which is justified by investigating the swelling-induced surface pattern on thin hydrogel sheets fixed onto a saddle-shaped substrate prior to swelling. A theoretical mechanism based on an energy model was developed to show an anisotropic stripe-like surface crease pattern on a saddle-shaped surface. These results might be helpful to develop novel strategies for controlling crease patterns on soft and wet materials by changing their three-dimensional shape.