Hydrogel with three types of physical crosslinks shows remarkable self-recovery properties

Eu-containing poly (vinyl acetate) and poly (vinyl alcohol) are made into triple physical cross-linked hydrogels

Scientists in China have synthesised a hydrogel with three types of crosslinks: hydrogen bonds, crystalline regions and hydrophobic interactions. The hydrogel has high strength, high compressibility and impressive self-healing abilities.

The team, led by Yao Li and Xu Fei from Dalian Polytechnic University, demonstrated that a 2cm2 piece of the hydrogel could lift a 1kg weight without breaking, while a disc of the hydrogel returned to its original shape after being driven over by a car. They also incorporated europium into their hydrogel to make it photoluminescent.

Five freeze-thaw cycles gave rise to the crosslinks behind the hydrogel's impressive properties

Source: © Royal Society of Chemistry

Five freeze-thaw cycles help generate the crosslinks behind the hydrogel’s impressive properties

Hydrogels are widely used in medicine as wound dressings, but recent research has tested them in load-bearing soft tissue applications. Li and Fei’s hydrogel is non-toxic – preliminary tests show healthy cell growth on the surface of the material – and the europium emission was visible through skin, which means that it could be observed in vivo.