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Title: Soft, Strong, Tough, and Durable Bio‐Hydrogels Via Maximizing Elastic Entropy

Load‐bearing soft tissues are soft but strong, strong yet tough. These properties can only be replicated in synthetic hydrogels, which do not have the biocomplexity required by many biomedical applications. By contrast, natural hydrogels, although retaining the native complexity, are weak and fragile. Here a thermomechanical casting method is presented to achieve the mechanical capabilities of synthetic materials in biopolymer hydrogels. The thermomechanical cast and chemically crosslinked biopolymer chains form a short‐range disordered but long‐range ordered structure in water. Upon stretch, the disordered structure transforms to a hierarchically ordered structure. This disorder‐order transformation resembles the synergy of the disordered elastin and ordered collagen in load‐bearing soft tissues. As entropy drives a reverse order‐disorder transformation, the hydrogels can resist repeated cycles of loads without deterioration in mechanical properties. Gelatin hydrogels produced by this method combine tissue‐like tunable mechanical properties that outperform the gelatin prepared by synthetic approaches, and in vivo biocomplexity beyond current natural systems. Unlike polymer engineering approaches, which rely on specific crosslinks provided by special polymers, this strategy utilizes the entropy of swollen chains and is generalizable to many other biopolymers. It could thus significantly accelerate translational success of biomaterials.

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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Advanced Functional Materials
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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