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Fiber-reinforced tough hydrogels

Widusha Illeperuma's picture

Our paper has appeared in EML (Extreme Mechanics Letters) and can be downloaded.  Using strong fibers to reinforce a hydrogel is highly desirable but difficult. Such a composite would combine the attributes of a solid that provides strength and a liquid that transports matter. Most hydrogels, however, are brittle, allowing the fibers to cut through the hydrogel when the composite is loaded. Here we circumvent this problem by using a recently developed tough hydrogel. We fabricate a composite using an alginate-polyacrylamide hydrogel reinforced with a random network of stainless steel fibers. Because the hydrogel is tough, the composite does not fail by the fibers cutting the hydrogel; instead, it fails by the fibers pulling out of the hydrogel against friction. Both stiffness and strength can be increased significantly by adding fibers to the hydrogel. Before failure the composite dissipates a significant amount of energy, at a tunable level of stress, attaining large deformation. Potential applications of tough hydrogel composites include energy-absorbing helmets, tendon repair surgery, and stretchable biometric sensors.

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