New 'Ionogels' Are Tough, Stretchable and Easy to Make

Wed, 06 Apr 2022 07:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

They could find use as protective material, 3-D printer “ink” or longer-lasting batteries

Now researchers have developed a new version of a hydrogel cousin that is tougher and could perhaps find even more uses, including longer-lasting batteries.

An ionic liquid does not assemble into a crystalline solid at room temperature.

Thanks in part to the sticking power of ions, polymers soaked in an ionic liquid can be tougher than those in hydrogels.

Michael Dickey, a chemical engineer at North Carolina State University, and his colleagues have devised a new method for creating ionogels with mechanical properties he describes as "Best in class." They are harder to break than either cartilage or natural rubber while remaining soft and stretchy.

His team's ionogels conduct electricity and remain stable amid shifting temperatures.

The new material is described in a recent study published in Nature Materials.

"These transparent ionogels have remarkably tough mechanical properties and are distinguished by how easy they are to prepare," says Xuanhe Zhao, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who reviewed the study but was not directly involved in the work.

Using the new formula, Dickey and his colleagues simply mixed an ionic liquid with the building blocks of two different types of polymers and then shone light on the liquid to trigger the monomers to link up into polymer chains.

"You take these two materials that, by themselves, are [common], but then you put them in this new environment, and you get something remarkably tough."

Ionogels made with this new method could have many applications.