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One-Pot and One-Step Fabrication of Salt-Responsive Bilayer Hydrogels with 2D and 3D Shape Transformations

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-05-29, 00:00 authored by Xiaomin He, Dong Zhang, Jiahui Wu, Yang Wang, Feng Chen, Ping Fan, Mingqiang Zhong, Shengwei Xiao, Jintao Yang
Bilayer hydrogels are one of the most promising materials for use as soft actuators, artificial muscles, and soft robotic elements. Therefore, the development of new and simple methods for the fabrication of such hydrogels is of particular importance for both academic research and industrial applications. Herein, a facile, one-pot, and one-step methodology was used to prepare bilayer hydrogels. Specifically, several common monomers, including N-isopropyl acrylamide, acrylamide, and N-(2-hydroxyethyl)­acrylamide, as well as two salt-responsive zwitterionic monomers, 3-(1-(4-vinylbenzyl)-1H-imidazol-3-ium-3-yl)­propane-1-sulfonate (VBIPS) and dimethyl-(4-vinylphenyl)­ammonium propane sulfonate (DVBAPS), were chosen and employed with different combinations and ratios to understand the formation and structural tunability of the bilayer hydrogels. The results indicated that a salt-responsive zwitterionic-enriched copolymer, which could precipitate from water, plays a dominant role in the formation of the bilayer structure and that the ratio between the common monomer and the zwitterionic monomer had a significant effect on the structure. Due to the salt-responsive properties of polyVBIPS and polyDVBAPS, the resultant bilayer hydrogels exhibited excellent bidirectional bending properties in response to the salt solution. With the optimal monomer pair and ratio determined, the bend of the hydrogel could be reversed from ∼−360 to ∼266° in response to a switch between water and a 1.0 M NaCl solution. Additionally, this method was further used to fabricate small-scaled patterns with structural and compositional distinction in two-dimensional hydrogel sheets. These two-dimensional hydrogel sheets exhibited complex and reversible three-dimensional shape transformations due to the different bending behaviors of the patterned hydrogel stripes under the action of an external stimulus. This work provides greater insight into the mechanism of the one-step, one-pot method fabrication of bilayer hydrogels, demonstrates the ability of this method for the preparation of small-scale patterns in hydrogel sheets to endow the complex with a three-dimensional shape transformation capability, and hopefully opens up a new pathway for the design and fabrication of smart hydrogels.