Macromolecules, Vol.44, No.12, 4997-5005, 2011
Tough and Self-Healing Hydrogels Formed via Hydrophobic Interactions
Large hydrophobic monomers stearyl methacrylate (C18) and dococyl acrylate (C22) could be copolymerized with the hydrophilic monomer acrylamide in a micellar solution of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). This was achieved by the addition of salt (NaCl) into the reaction solution. Salt leads to micellar growth and, hence, solubilization of the hydrophobes within the SDS micelles. The hydrogels thus obtained without a chemical cross-linker exhibit unique properties due to the strong hydrophobic interactions. They can only be dissolved in SDS solutions demonstrating the physical nature of cross-links. Results of dynamic light scattering, rheological and mechanical measurements show that the hydrophobic associations between the blocks of C18 or C22 units prevent water solubility and flow, while the dynamic nature of the junction zones provides homogeneity and self-healing properties together with a high degree of toughness. When fractured, the hydrogels formed using C18 associations can be repaired by bringing together fractured surfaces to self-heal at room temperature, after which, they again exhibit the original extensibility) of about 3600%. The existence of free, nonassociated blocks in C18 hydrogels is accounted for their high self-healing efficiencies.