Research Article

Mechanoresponsive self-growing hydrogels inspired by muscle training

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Science  01 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6426, pp. 504-508
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau9533

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Working harder, getting stronger

Self-healing polymers attempt to restore mechanical strength after deformation. Polymer gels tend to be too soft for this to occur. Matsuda et al. generated self-healing hydrogels composed of a double-network material (see the Perspective by Craig). A mechanical stress breaks the more brittle of the two networks, while the other retains stability. On breakage, the fractured chains create radical initiators that polymerize new network material. With repeated network breakage and a supply of monomers, the gel gets stronger.

Science, this issue p. 504; see also p. 451

Abstract

Living tissues, such as muscle, autonomously grow and remodel themselves to adapt to their surrounding mechanical environment through metabolic processes. By contrast, typical synthetic materials cannot grow and reconstruct their structures once formed. We propose a strategy for developing “self-growing” polymeric materials that respond to repetitive mechanical stress through an effective mechanochemical transduction. Robust double-network hydrogels provided with a sustained monomer supply undergo self-growth, and the materials are substantially strengthened under repetitive loading through a structural destruction-reconstruction process. This strategy also endows the hydrogels with tailored functions at desired positions by mechanical stamping. This work may pave the way for the development of self-growing gel materials for applications such as soft robots and intelligent devices.

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