Highly compressible glass-like supramolecular polymer networks

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Supramolecular polymer networks are non-covalently crosslinked soft materials that exhibit unique mechanical features such as self-healing, high toughness and stretchability. Previous studies have focused on optimizing such properties using fast-dissociative crosslinks (that is, for an aqueous system, dissociation rate constant kd > 10 s-1). Herein, we describe non-covalent crosslinkers with slow, tuneable dissociation kinetics (kd < 1 s-1) that enable high compressibility to supramolecular polymer networks. The resultant glass-like supramolecular networks have compressive strengths up to 100 MPa with no fracture, even when compressed at 93% strain over 12 cycles of compression and relaxation. Notably, these networks show a fast, room-temperature self-recovery (< 120 s), which may be useful for the design of high-performance soft materials. Retarding the dissociation kinetics of non-covalent crosslinks through structural control enables access of such glass-like supramolecular materials, holding substantial promise in applications including soft robotics, tissue engineering and wearable bioelectronics.

Nat. Mater., 2022, 21, 103-109