American Chemical Society
am9b08853_si_002.mp4 (49.58 MB)

Reversible Hydrogel Photopatterning: Spatial and Temporal Control over Gel Mechanical Properties Using Visible Light Photoredox Catalysis

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posted on 2019-06-17, 00:00 authored by Faheem Amir, Kevin P. Liles, Abigail O. Delawder, Nathan D. Colley, Mark S. Palmquist, Houston R. Linder, Scott A. Sell, Jonathan C. Barnes
There is a growing interest in being able to control the mechanical properties of hydrogels for applications in materials, medicine, and biology. Primarily, changes in the hydrogel’s physical properties, i.e., stiffness, toughness, etc., are achieved by modulating the network cross-linking chemistry. Common cross-linking strategies rely on (i) irreversible network bond degradation and reformation in response to an external stimulus, (ii) using dynamic covalent chemistry, or (iii) isomerization of integrated functional groups (e.g., azobenzene or spiropyran). Many of these strategies are executed using ultraviolet or visible light since the incident photons serve as an external stimulus that affords spatial and temporal control over the mechanical adaptation process. Here, we describe a different type of hydrogel cross-linking strategy that uses a redox-responsive cross-linker, incorporated in poly­(hydroxyethyl acrylate)-based hydrogels at three different weight percent loadings, which consists of two viologen subunits tethered by hexaethylene glycol and capped with styrene groups at each terminus. These dicationic viologen subunits (V2+) can be reduced to their monoradical cations (V•+) through a photoinduced electron transfer (PET) process using a visible light-absorbing photocatalyst (tris­(bipyridine)­ruthenium­(II) dichloride) embedded in the hydrogel, resulting in the intramolecular stacking of viologen radical cations, through radical–radical pairing interactions, while losing two positive charges and the corresponding counteranions from the hydrogel. It is shown how this concerted process ultimately leads to collapse of the hydrogel network and significantly (p < 0.05) increases (by nearly a factor of 2) the soft material’s stiffness, tensile strength, and percent elongation at break, all of which is easily reversed via oxidation of the viologen subunits and swelling in water. Application of this reversible PET process was demonstrated by photopatterning the same hydrogel multiple times, where the pattern was “erased” each time by turning off the blue light (∼450 nm) source and allowing for oxidation and reswelling in between patterning steps. The areas of the hydrogel that were masked exhibited lower (by 1–2 kPa) shear storage moduli (G′) than the areas that were irradiated for 1.5 h. Moreover, because the viologen subunits in the functional cross-linker are electrochromic, it is possible to visualize the regions of the hydrogel that undergo changes in mechanical properties. This visualization process was illustrated by photopatterning a larger hydrogel (∼9.5 cm on its longest side) with a photomask in the design of an array of stars.