Cation-induced shape programming and morphing in protein-based hydrogels

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Science Advances  29 Apr 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 18, eaba6112
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba6112


Smart materials that are capable of memorizing a temporary shape, and morph in response to a stimulus, have the potential to revolutionize medicine and robotics. Here, we introduce an innovative method to program protein hydrogels and to induce shape changes in aqueous solutions at room temperature. We demonstrate our approach using hydrogels made from serum albumin, the most abundant protein in the blood plasma, which are synthesized in a cylindrical or flower shape. These gels are then programmed into a spring or a ring shape, respectively. The programming is performed through a marked change in stiffness (of up to 17-fold), induced by adsorption of Zn2+ or Cu2+ cations. We show that these programmed biomaterials can then morph back into their original shape, as the cations diffuse outside the hydrogel material. The approach demonstrated here represents an innovative strategy to program protein-based hydrogels to behave as actuators.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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