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Scalable and Automated Fabrication of Conductive Tough-Hydrogel Microfibers with Ultrastretchability, 3D Printability, and Stress Sensitivity

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journal contribution
posted on 05.03.2018, 00:00 by Shanshan Wei, Gang Qu, Guanyi Luo, Yuxing Huang, Huisheng Zhang, Xuechang Zhou, Liqiu Wang, Zhou Liu, Tiantian Kong
Creating complex three-dimensional structures from soft yet durable materials enables advances in fields such as flexible electronics, regenerating tissue engineering, and soft robotics. Tough hydrogels that mimic the human skin can bear enormous mechanical loads. By employing a spider-inspired biomimetic microfluidic nozzle, we successfully achieve continuous printing of tough hydrogels into fibers, two-dimensional networks, and even three-dimensional structures without compromising their extreme mechanical properties. The resultant thin fibers demonstrate a stretch up to 21 times of their original length at a water content of 52%, and are intrinsically transparent, biocompatible, and conductive at high stretches. Moreover, the printed robust tough-hydrogel networks can sense strain that are orders of magnitude lower than stretchable conductors by percolations of conductive particles. To demonstrate their potential application, we use printed tough-hydrogel fiber networks as wearable sensors for detecting human motions. The capability to shape tough hydrogels into complex structures by scalable continuous printing opens opportunities for new areas of applications such as tissue scaffolds, large-area soft electronics, and smart textiles.