Cooperative deformations of periodically patterned hydrogels

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Science Advances  15 Sep 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 9, e1700348
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700348

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Nature has shown elegant paradigms of smart deformation, which inspired biomimetic systems with controllable bending, folding, and twisting that are significant for the development of soft electronics and actuators. Complex deformations are usually realized by additively incorporating typical structures in selective domains with little interaction. We demonstrate the cooperative deformations of periodically patterned hydrogel sheets, in which neighboring domains mutually interact and cooperatively deform. Nonswelling disc gels are periodically positioned in a high-swelling gel. During the swelling process, the compartmentalized high-swelling gel alternately bends upward or downward to relieve the in-plane compression, but the overall integrated structure remains flat. The synergy between the elastic mismatch and the geometric periodicity selects the outcome pattern. Both experiment and modeling show that various types of cooperative deformation can be achieved by tuning the pattern geometry and gel properties. Different responsive polymers can also be patterned in one composite gel. Under stimulation, reversible transformations between different cooperative deformations are realized. The principle of cooperative deformation should be applicable to other materials, and the patterns can be miniaturized to the micrometer- or nanometer-scale level, providing the morphing materials with advanced functionalities for applications in various fields.

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