Structural properties of contractile gels based on light-driven molecular motors: a small-angle neutron and X-ray study
The detailed structure of active polymer gels built by integrating light-driven rotary molecular motors as reticulation units in polymer networks is discussed as a function of gel composition. Upon light-irradiation, the collective rotation of molecular motors is translated into the macroscopic contraction of the gels through polymer chains twisting. The major role of the characteristic ratio c/c* (c* being the overlap concentration of the polymer–motor conjugates before crosslinking) on the contraction efficiency is exploited. Combined small-angle neutron and X-ray scattering experiments reveal the importance of heterogeneities in the macroscopic contraction process: the mesh size of the network increases under irradiation in the whole range of c/c*, an increase that is maximal for c/c* = 1; i.e. at higher contraction efficiency. Furthermore, the mesh size of the network reaches equilibrium within a short period of time, while the heterogeneities increase in size untill the end of the contraction process. Finally, the significant motorized twisting of polymer chains within the network allows to foresee the design of new storage energy systems.