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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
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  4. Abstract

    Additive manufacturing (AM) of aerogels increases the achievable geometric complexity, and affords fabrication of hierarchically porous structures. In this work, a custom heated material extrusion (MEX) device prints aerogels of poly(phenylene sulfide) (PPS), an engineering thermoplastic, via in situ thermally induced phase separation (TIPS). First, pre‐prepared solid gel inks are dissolved at high temperatures in the heated extruder barrel to form a homogeneous polymer solution. Solutions are then extruded onto a room‐temperature substrate, where printed roads maintain their bead shape and rapidly solidify via TIPS, thus enabling layer‐wise MEX AM. Printed gels are converted to aerogels via postprocessing solvent exchange and freeze‐drying. This work explores the effect of ink composition on printed aerogel morphology and thermomechanical properties. Scanning electron microscopy micrographs reveal complex hierarchical microstructures that are compositionally dependent. Printed aerogels demonstrate tailorable porosities (50.0–74.8%) and densities (0.345–0.684 g cm−3), which align well with cast aerogel analogs. Differential scanning calorimetry thermograms indicate printed aerogels are highly crystalline (≈43%), suggesting that printing does not inhibit the solidification process occurring during TIPS (polymer crystallization). Uniaxial compression testing reveals that compositionally dependent microstructure governs aerogel mechanical behavior, with compressive moduli ranging from 33.0 to 106.5 MPa.

     
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  5. Quantitative analysis of particle size and size distribution is crucial in establishing structure–property relationships of composite materials. An emerging soft composite architecture involves dispersing droplets of liquid metal throughout an elastomer, enabling synergistic properties of metals and soft polymers. The structure of these materials is typically characterized through real-space microscopy and image analysis; however, these techniques rely on magnified images that may not represent the global-averaged size and distribution of the droplets. In this study, we utilize ultra-small angle X-ray scattering (USAXS) as a reciprocal-space characterization technique that yields global-averaged dimensions of eutectic gallium indium (EGaIn) alloy soft composites. The Unified fit and Monte Carlo scattering methods are applied to determine the particle size and size distributions of the liquid metal droplets in the composites and are shown to be in excellent agreement with results from real-space image analysis. Additionally, all methods indicate that the droplets are getting larger as they are introduced into composites, suggesting that the droplets are agglomerating or possibly coalescing during dispersion. This work demonstrates the viability of X-ray scattering to elucidate structural information about liquid metal droplets for material development for applications in soft robotics, soft electronics, and multifunctional materials. 
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