Optically transparent, high-toughness elastomer using a polyrotaxane cross-linker as a molecular pulley

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Science Advances  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 10, eaat7629
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat7629


An elastomer is a three-dimensional network with a cross-linked polymer chain that undergoes large deformation with a small external force and returns to its original state when the external force is removed. Because of this hyperelasticity, elastomers are regarded as one of the best candidates for the matrix material of soft robots. However, the comprehensive performance required of matrix materials is a special challenge because improvement of some matrix properties often causes the deterioration of others. For example, an improvement in toughness can be realized by adding a large amount of filler to an elastomer, but to the impairment of optical transparency. Therefore, to produce an elastomer exhibiting optimum properties suitable for the desired purpose, very elaborate, complicated materials are often devised. Here, we have succeeded in creating an optically transparent, easily fabricated elastomer with good extensibility and high toughness by using a polyrotaxane (PR) composed of cyclic molecules and a linear polymer as a cross-linking agent. In general, elastomers having conventional cross-linked structures are susceptible to breakage as a result of loss of extensibility at high cross-linking density. We found that the toughness of the transparent elastomer prepared using the PR cross-linking agent is enhanced along with its Young’s modulus as cross-linking density is increased.

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