Publication: Dynamics and Large Strain Behavior of Self-Healing Hydrogels with and without Surfactants
Polyacrylamide hydrogels formed via hydrophobic interactions between stearyl groups in aqueous micellar solution of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) present two faces depending on which state they are. The gels containing SDS micelles exhibit, in addition to the fast mode, a slow relaxation mode in dynamic light scattering (DLS) and time-dependent elastic moduli, indicating the temporary nature of the hydrophobic associations having lifetimes of the order of seconds to milliseconds. The gels where SDS had been removed after their preparation behave similar to chemically cross-linked ones with time-independent elastic moduli, a high degree of spatial inhomogeneity, and a single relaxation mode in DLS. Because of this drastic structural change, the physical gels are insoluble in water with a gel fraction close to unity. In surfactant containing gels, a large proportion of physical cross-links dissociate under force, but they do so reversibly, if the force is removed they reform again. The reversible disengagements of the hydrophobic units building the physical cross-links leads to a self-healing efficiency of nearly 100%, while no such healing behavior was observed after extraction of SDS due to the loss of the reversible nature of the cross-linkages.