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Issue 22, 2019
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Molecularly-ordered hydrogels with controllable, anisotropic stimulus response

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Hydrogels which morph between programmed shapes in response to aqueous stimuli are of significant interest for biosensors and artificial muscles, among other applications. However, programming hydrogel shape change at small size scales is a significant challenge. Here we use the inherent ordering capabilities of liquid crystals to create a mechanically anisotropic hydrogel; when coupled with responsive comonomers, the mechanical anisotropy in the network guides shape change in response to the desired aqueous condition. Our synthetic strategy hinges on the use of a methacrylic chromonic liquid crystal monomer which can be combined with a non-polymerizable chromonic of similar structure to vary the magnitude of shape change while retaining liquid crystalline order. This shape change is directional due to the mechanical anisotropy of the gel, which is up to 50% stiffer along the chromonic stack direction than perpendicular. Additionally, we show that the type of stimulus to which these anisotropic gels respond can be switched by incorporating responsive, hydrophilic comonomers without destroying the nematic phase or alignment. The utility of these properties is demonstrated in polymerized microstructures which exhibit Gaussian curvature in response to high pH due to emergent ordering in a micron-sized capillary.

Graphical abstract: Molecularly-ordered hydrogels with controllable, anisotropic stimulus response

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Supplementary files

Article information

15 Apr 2019
02 May 2019
First published
03 May 2019

Soft Matter, 2019,15, 4508-4517
Article type
Author version available

Molecularly-ordered hydrogels with controllable, anisotropic stimulus response

J. M. Boothby, J. Samuel and T. H. Ware, Soft Matter, 2019, 15, 4508
DOI: 10.1039/C9SM00763F

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