3D printing of self-assembling thermoresponsive nanoemulsions into hierarchical mesostructured hydrogels
Spinodal decomposition and phase transitions have emerged as viable methods to generate a variety of bicontinuous materials. Here, we show that when arrested phase separation is coupled to the time scales involved in three-dimensional (3D) printing processes, hydrogels with multiple length scales spanning nanometers to millimeters can be printed with high fidelity. We use an oil-in-water nanoemulsion-based ink with rheological and photoreactive properties that satisfy the requirements of stereolithographic 3D printing. This ink is thermoresponsive and consists of poly(dimethyl siloxane) droplets suspended in an aqueous phase containing the surfactant sodium dodecyl sulfate and the cross-linker poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate. Control of the hydrogel microstructure can be achieved in the printing process due to the rapid structural recovery of the nanoemulsions after large strain-rate yielding, as well as the shear thinning behavior that allows the ink to conform to the build platform of the printer. Wiper operations are used to ensure even spreading of the yield stress ink on the optical window between successive print steps. Post-processing of the printed samples is used to generate mesoporous hydrogels that serve as size-selective membranes. Our work demonstrates that nanoemulsions, which belong to a class of solution-based materials with flexible functionalities, can be printed into prototypes with complex shapes using a commercially available 3D printer with a few modifications.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Soft Matter Lectureship Winners