Mechanical Behavior of Tough Hydrogels for Structural Applications
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CitationIlleperuma, Widusha Ruwangi Kaushalya. 2015. Mechanical Behavior of Tough Hydrogels for Structural Applications. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractHydrogels are widely used in many commercial products including Jell-O, contact lenses, and superabsorbent diapers. In recent decades, hydrogels have been under intense development for biomedical applications, such as scaffolds in tissue engineering, carriers for drug delivery, and valves in microfluidic systems. But the scope is severely limited as conventional hydrogels are weak and brittle and are not very stretchable. This thesis investigates the approaches that enhance the mechanical properties of hydrogels and their structural applications.
We discov¬ered a class of exceptionally stretchable and tough hydrogels made from poly-mers that form networks via ionic and covalent crosslinks. Although such a hydrogel contains ~90% water, it can be stretched beyond 20 times its initial length, and has a fracture energy of ~9000 J/m2. The combination of large stretchability, remarkable toughness, and recoverability of stiffness and toughness, along with easy synthesis makes this material much superior over existing hydrogels. Extreme stretchability and blunted crack tips of these hydrogels question the validity of traditional fracture testing methods. We re-examine a widely used pure shear test method to measure the fracture energy. With the experimental and simulation results, we conclude that the pure shear test method can be used to measure fracture energy of extremely stretchable materials.
Even though polyacrylamide-alginate hydrogels have an extremely high toughness, it has a relatively low stiffness and strength. We improved the stiffness and strength by embedding fibers. Most hydrogels are brittle, allowing the fibers to cut through the hydrogel when the composite is loaded. But tough hydrogel composites do not fail by the fibers cutting the hydrogel; instead, it undergoes large deforming by fibers sliding through the matrix.
Hydrogels were not considered as materials for structural applications. But with enhanced mechanical properties, they have opened up novel applications. This thesis aims to investigate the broader applications, well beyond those investigated so far. We show fiber reinforced tough hydrogels can dissipate a significant amount of energy at a tunable level of stress, making them suitable for energy absorbing applications such as inner layer of helmets. We develop inexpensive fire-retarding materials using tough hydrogels that provide superior protection from burn injuries. We also study hydrogels as actuators that can be used in soft robotics. Hydrogels contain mostly water and they freeze when the temperature drops below 00C and lose its functions. We demonstrate a new class of hydrogels that do not freeze and hydrogels that partially freeze below water freezing temperature. Partially freezing hydrogels are ideal for cooling applications such as gel packs and non-freezing hydrogels are useful in all the structural applications at low temperatures.
This thesis will enable the use of inexpensive hydrogels in a new class of non-traditional structural applications where the mechanical behavior of the hydrogel is of prime importance.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467230
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