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Anisotropic Double-Network Hydrogels via Controlled Orientation of a Physical Sacrificial Network

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journal contribution
posted on 28.05.2020, 22:03 by Daniel R. King, Riku Takahashi, Takuma Ikai, Kazuki Fukao, Takayuki Kurokawa, Jian Ping Gong
We report a method to create anisotropic double-network (DN) hydrogels, through the controlled orientation of a physical sacrificial network. A cross-linked polyacrylamide hydrogel is synthesized from a solution containing a semirigid anionic polyelectrolyte. Subsequently, the gel is stretched to orient the semirigid polyelectrolyte, which does not relax in the stretched state because of the high contour length in comparison to the mesh size of the polyacrylamide network. The polyelectrolyte is then physically cross-linked with a multivalent cation, ZrCl2O, to fix the anisotropy. Anisotropy was visualized by observing birefringence and quantified by small-angle X-ray scattering. By comparing the scattering in the oriented direction versus perpendicular to the oriented direction, a structural anisotropy factor was calculated. Uniaxial tensile testing was performed on samples of varying prestretch, both parallel and perpendicular to the stretching direction. Young’s modulus, fracture stress, fracture strain, and work of extension were characterized, and the resulting mechanical anisotropy was compared to the structural anisotropy factor. We find that the anisotropy of Young’s modulus and fracture stress is directly controlled by the anisotropy of the sacrificial network, while fracture strain and work of extension show little influence from structural anisotropy. The results of this work demonstrate that prestretching of a physical sacrificial network is a controllable and simple method to create anisotropic DN hydrogels.