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A new way to nanostructure hydrogels : electrospun thermo-responsive islands-in-the-sea nanofibres

conference contribution
posted on 2011-01-01, 00:00 authored by Jing Wang, Alessandra SuttiAlessandra Sutti, Xungai Wang, Tong Lin
Islands-in-the-sea nanofibres are a very interesting system: one polymer (islands) is distributed in fibrillar domains within a second polymer (sea). This fibre geometry is often used in microfiber technologies to obtain very fine fibers, by removing the “sea” polymer. This geometry also allows to combine two polymers with very different properties. In this work this geometry is introduced applied to electrospun hydrogel nanofibers, in a novel fashion, and as a way to improve and stabilize the hydrogel nanofibers. Thermo-responsive islands-in-the-sea nanofibers are here produced by electrospinning solutions of a hydrogel-forming thermo-responsive polymer (crosslinked poly(N-isopropylacrylamide), PNIPAM) and a reinforcing polymer (polyetherketone cardo, PEK-c). The two polymers are thermodynamically incompatible in solution and phase separation takes place, which allows the instant formation of islands-in-the-sea nanofibers upon electrospinning. PNIPAM was then crosslinked post-spinning using an oligomeric silsesquioxane. The formed nanocomposite nanofibers showed intrinsic nanostructure, where the fibril-like PNIPAM domains are intimately adjacent to the strong PEK-c domains. Upon contacting with water, the hydrogel domains became instantly highly swollen, while the PEK-c domains did not. As a result, very wrinkly, swollen fibers were obtained, with increased capillary action, as demonstrated through confocal microscopy. The composite nanofibers in water showed excellent swelling ratios and very fast responses to temperature variations (of the order of 1 second) with morphological and optical effects: variations in fiber-diameter were accompanied by optical transitions: transparent-opaque. The produced hydrogel nanofibers also presented improved mechanical properties (even with small amounts of PEK-c), when compared to their crosslinked-PNIPAM-only nanofibers. It will be also shown how these materials can be used as optical actuators and smart hydrogel platforms with tuneable contact angle and morphology. In brief, this work aims to demonstrate a new platform technology which can be applied to several hydrogel systems, to achieve hydrogel-based composites with new and improved properties, while retaining (and improving) the main properties of the hydrogel. Here this was demonstrated by showing that the composite materials showed thermo-responsiveness, and enhanced transition kinetics.



Materials Research Society. Fall Meeting & Exhibit (2011 : Boston, Mass.)


Materials Research Society


Boston, Mass.

Place of publication

[Boston, Mass.]

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Publication classification

E1 Full written paper - refereed

Copyright notice

2011, Materials Research Society

Title of proceedings

MRS Fall 2011 : Proceedings of the Materials Research Society 2011 Fall meeting & exhibit