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3D Cocontinuous Composites of Hydrophilic and Hydrophobic Soft Materials: High Modulus and Fast Actuation Time

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posted on 27.09.2017 by Junseok Kim, Yunho Cho, Soyun Kim, Jonghwi Lee
Hydrogels in nature seldom form a single phase, more often forming structured phases with other soft phases, allowing nature to develop responsive and adaptive strategies. Based on knowledge of how hydrogels are utilized in nature, we developed novel 3D cocontinuous composites from soft materials with extremely different properties, a hydrogel and a silicone. These were successfully prepared by infiltrating liquid polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) into poly­(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAm) frameworks of aligned pores prepared by directional melt crystallization. The composites had outstanding modulus and swelling ratio compared to other mechanically strong hydrogels. More interestingly, the deswelling kinetics were dramatically accelerated (by a factor of 1000), possibly due to the aligned microchannels and the hydrophobic nature of PDMS. As a result, an actuator movement mimicking flowering could be completed in less than 20 s. This novel and versatile cocontinuous composite strategy could overcome the current limitations of soft materials.