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  1. Abstract

    In response to environmental stressors, biological systems exhibit extraordinary adaptive capacity by turning destructive environmental stressors into constructive factors; however, the traditional engineering materials weaken and fail. Take the response of polymers to an aquatic environment as an example: Water molecules typically compromise the mechanical properties of the polymer network in the bulk and on the interface through swelling and lubrication, respectively. Here, we report a class of 3D-printable synthetic polymers that constructively strengthen their bulk and interfacial mechanical properties in response to the aquatic environment. The mechanism relies on a water-assisted additional cross-linking reaction in the polymer matrix and on the interface. As such, the typically destructive water can constructively enhance the polymer’s bulk mechanical properties such as stiffness, tensile strength, and fracture toughness by factors of 746% to 790%, and the interfacial bonding by a factor of 1,000%. We show that the invented polymers can be used for soft robotics that self-strengthen matrix and self-heal cracks after training in water and water-healable packaging materials for flexible electronics. This work opens the door for the design of synthetic materials to imitate the constructive adaptation of biological systems in response to environmental stressors, for applications such as artificial muscles, soft robotics, and flexible electronics.

     
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  3. Flame-retardant and thermal management structures have attracted great attention due to the requirement of high-temperature exposure in industrial, aerospace, and thermal power fields, but the development of protective fire-retardant structures with complex shapes to fit arbitrary surfaces is still challenging. Herein, we reported a rotation-blade casting-assisted 3D printing process to fabricate nacre-inspired structures with exceptional mechanical and flame-retardant properties, and the related fundamental mechanisms are studied. 3-(Trimethoxysilyl)propyl methacrylate (TMSPMA) modified boron nitride nanoplatelets (BNs) were aligned by rotation-blade casting during the 3D printing process to build the “brick and mortar” architecture. The 3D printed structures are more lightweight, while having higher fracture toughness than the natural nacre, which is attributed to the crack deflection, aligned BN (a-BNs) bridging, and pull-outs reinforced structures by the covalent bonding between TMSPMA grafted a-BNs and polymer matrix. Thermal conductivity is enhanced by 25.5 times compared with pure polymer and 5.8 times of anisotropy due to the interconnection of a-BNs. 3D printed heat-exchange structures with vertically aligned BNs in complex shapes were demonstrated for efficient thermal control of high-power light-emitting diodes. 3D printed helmet and armor with a-BNs show exceptional mechanical and fire-retardant properties, demonstrating integrated mechanical and thermal protection. 
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  4. The mechanical properties of engineering structures continuously weaken during service life because of material fatigue or degradation. By contrast, living organisms are able to strengthen their mechanical properties by regenerating parts of their structures. For example, plants strengthen their cell structures by transforming photosynthesis-produced glucose into stiff polysaccharides. In this work, we realize hybrid materials that use photosynthesis of embedded chloroplasts to remodel their microstructures. These materials can be used to three-dimensionally (3D)-print functional structures, which are endowed with matrix-strengthening and crack healing when exposed to white light. The mechanism relies on a 3D-printable polymer that allows for an additional cross-linking reaction with photosynthesis-produced glucose in the material bulk or on the interface. The remodeling behavior can be suspended by freezing chloroplasts, regulated by mechanical preloads, and reversed by environmental cues. This work opens the door for the design of hybrid synthetic-living materials, for applications such as smart composites, lightweight structures, and soft robotics.

     
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  5. Most of the existing acoustic metamaterials rely on architected structures with fixed configurations, and thus, their properties cannot be modulated once the structures are fabricated. Emerging active acoustic metamaterials highlight a promising opportunity to on-demand switch property states; however, they typically require tethered loads, such as mechanical compression or pneumatic actuation. Using untethered physical stimuli to actively switch property states of acoustic metamaterials remains largely unexplored. Here, inspired by the sharkskin denticles, we present a class of active acoustic metamaterials whose configurations can be on-demand switched via untethered magnetic fields, thus enabling active switching of acoustic transmission, wave guiding, logic operation, and reciprocity. The key mechanism relies on magnetically deformable Mie resonator pillar (MRP) arrays that can be tuned between vertical and bent states corresponding to the acoustic forbidding and conducting, respectively. The MRPs are made of a magnetoactive elastomer and feature wavy air channels to enable an artificial Mie resonance within a designed frequency regime. The Mie resonance induces an acoustic bandgap, which is closed when pillars are selectively bent by a sufficiently large magnetic field. These magnetoactive MRPs are further harnessed to design stimuli-controlled reconfigurable acoustic switches, logic gates, and diodes. Capable of creating the first generation of untethered-stimuli-induced active acoustic metadevices, the present paradigm may find broad engineering applications, ranging from noise control and audio modulation to sonic camouflage. 
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