Stimuli responsive dynamic transformations in supramolecular gels
Supramolecular gels are formed by the self-assembly of small molecules under the influence of various non-covalent interactions. As the interactions are individually weak and reversible, it is possible to perturb the gels easily, which in turn enables fine tuning of their properties. Synthetic supramolecular gels are kinetically trapped and usually do not show time variable changes in material properties after formation. However, such materials potentially become switchable when exposed to external stimuli like temperature, pH, light, enzyme, redox, and chemical analytes resulting in reconfiguration of gel matrix into a different type of network. Such transformations allow gel-to-gel transitions while the changes in the molecular aggregation result in alteration of physical and chemical properties of the gel with time. Here, we discuss various methods that have been used to achieve gel-to-gel transitions by modifying a pre-formed gel material through external perturbation. We also describe methods that allow time-dependent autonomous switching of gels into different networks enabling synthesis of next generation functional materials. Dynamic modification of gels allows construction of an array of supramolecular gels with various properties from a single material which eventually extend the limit of applications of the gels. In some cases, gel-to-gel transitions lead to materials that cannot be accessed directly. Finally, we point out the necessity and possibility of further exploration of the field.