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  1. Programmable 3D shape morphing of stimuli-responsive hydrogels is of great interest for the fabrication of soft actuators and robots. The corporation of hydrogel matrices and functional additives is discussed in this review.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 7, 2024
  2. Stimuli-responsive hydrogels with self-strengthening properties are promising for the use of autonomous growth and adaptation systems to the surrounding environments by mimicking biological materials. However, conventional stimuli-responsive hydrogels require structural destruction to initiate mechanochemical reactions to grow new polymeric networks and strengthen themselves. Here we report continuous self-strengthening of a nanocomposite hydrogel composed of poly( N -isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) and nanoclay (NC) by using external stimuli such as heat and ionic strength. The internal structures of the NC-PNIPAM hydrogel are rearranged through the swelling–deswelling cycles or immersing in a salt solution, thus its mechanical properties are significantly improved. The effects of concentration of NC in hydrogels, number of swelling–deswelling cycles, and presence of salt in the surrounding environment on the mechanical properties of hydrogels are characterized by nanoindentation and tensile tests. The self-strengthening mechanical performance of the hydrogels is demonstrated by the loading ability. This work may offer promise for applications such as artificial muscles and soft robotics. 
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  3. Abstract

    Shape morphing of stimuli‐responsive composite hydrogels has received considerable attention in different research fields. Although various multilayer structures with dissimilar materials are studied to achieve shape morphing, combining swellable hydrogel layers with non‐swellable layers results in issues with interface adhesion and structural integrity. In this study, single‐hydrogel‐based bilayer actuators comprising poly(N‐isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) matrices and graphene oxide (GO)–PNIPAM hinges are presented. Upon temperature rising, the PNIPAM hydrogel acts as the passive layer due to the formation of dense microstructures near the surface (i.e., the skin layer effect), whereas the GO‐PNIPAM hydrogel functions as the active layer, maintaining porous due to structural modification by the presence of GO. Under light exposure, the GO‐PNIPAM hinges experience selective heating due to the photothermal effect of GO. Consequently, the resulting bilayer structures exhibit programmable dual‐responsive 3D shape morphing. Additionally, the folding kinetics of these actuators can be adjusted based on the applied stimulus (temperature changes or light), as they are driven by different mechanisms, the skin layer, or photothermal effects, respectively. Furthermore, the hinge‐based bilayer structures demonstrate walking and steering locomotion by light exposure. This approach can lead to advances in soft robotics, biomimetic systems, and autonomous soft actuators in hydrogel‐based systems.

     
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  4. Abstract

    Stimuli‐responsive hydrogels with programmable shapes produced by defined patterns of particles are of great interest for the fabrication of small‐scale soft actuators and robots. Patterning the particles in the hydrogels during fabrication generally requires external magnetic or electric fields, thus limiting the material choice for the particles. Acoustically driven particle manipulation, however, solely depends on the acoustic impedance difference between the particles and the surrounding fluid, making it a more versatile method to spatially control particles. Here, an approach is reported by combining direct acoustic force to align photothermal particles and photolithography to spatially immobilize these alignments within a temperature‐responsive poly(N‐isopropylacrylamide) hydrogel to trigger shape deformation under temperature change and light exposure. The spatial distribution of particles can be tuned by the power and frequency of the acoustic waves. Specifically, changing the spacing between the particle patterns and position alters the bending curvature and direction of this composite hydrogel sheet, respectively. Moreover, the orientation (i.e., relative angle) of the particle alignments with respect to the long axis of laser‐cut hydrogel strips governs the bending behaviors and the subsequent shape deformation by external stimuli. This acousto‐photolithography provides a means of spatiotemporal programming of the internal heterogeneity of composite polymeric systems.

     
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