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Photoreversible Covalent Hydrogels for Soft-Matter Additive Manufacturing

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posted on 04.05.2018, 12:08 by Christopher P. Kabb, Christopher S. O’Bryan, Christopher C. Deng, Thomas E. Angelini, Brent S. Sumerlin
Reversible covalent chemistry provides access to robust materials with the ability to be degraded and reformed upon exposure to an appropriate stimulus. Photoresponsive units are attractive for this purpose, as the spatial and temporal application of light is easily controlled. Coumarin derivatives undergo a [2 + 2] cycloaddition upon exposure to long-wave UV irradiation (365 nm), and this process can be reversed using short-wave UV light (254 nm). Therefore, polymers cross-linked by coumarin groups are excellent candidates as reversible covalent gels. In this work, copolymerization of coumarin-containing monomers with the hydrophilic comonomer N,N-dimethylacrylamide yielded water-soluble, linear polymers that could be cured with long-wave UV light into free-standing hydrogels, even in the absence of a photoinitiator. Importantly, the gels were reverted back to soluble copolymers upon short-wave UV irradiation. This process could be cycled, allowing for recycling and remolding of the hydrogel into additional shapes. Further, this hydrogel can be imprinted with patterns through a mask-based, post-gelation photoetching method. Traditional limitations of this technique, such as the requirement for uniform etching in one direction, have been overcome by combining these materials with a soft-matter additive manufacturing methodology. In a representative application of this approach, we printed solid structures in which the interior coumarin-cross-linked gel is surrounded by a nondegradable gel. Upon exposure to short-wave UV irradiation, the coumarin-cross-linked gel was reverted to soluble prepolymers that were washed away to yield hollow hydrogel objects.

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