pH-sensitivity of fast responsive superporous hydrogels

J Biomater Sci Polym Ed. 2000;11(12):1371-80. doi: 10.1163/156856200744390.


Stimuli-sensitive hydrogels (or smart hydrogels) are hydrogels that swell or shrink in response to small changes in environmental conditions in which they are placed. While the extent of swelling or shrinking may be large, the kinetics of such changes is slow, since the diffusion of water into and out of the hydrogel is a slow process. To obtain fast responses, we have prepared superporous hydrogels (SPHs) that can swell or shrink extremely fast regardless of their dimensions. The swelling and shrinking are orders of magnitude faster than expected for a nonporous hydrogel of the same dimensions. Water molecules are taken up into the SPHs by capillary forces, and this makes water uptake much faster than diffusion. The swelling ratio of the poly(acrylamide-co-acrylic acid) (p(AM-co-AA)) SPHs was dependent on the pH and ionic strength of the medium. The effect of pH was most pronounced and the effect of ionic strength was observed at all pH values. SPHs made at pH around 5 showed transient maximum swelling when exposed to pH 1.2 medium due to the transient low hydrogen ion concentration inside the swelling SPHs. The p(AM-co-AA) SPHs showed repeated swelling and shrinking by alternating the medium pH between 1.2 and 7.5, and the changes in swelling ratio was quite fast occurring in a matter of a minute. This fast sensitivity may make the stimuli sensitive hydrogels useful in many applications not previously possible. These materials can be used for applications where a single-piece hydrogel is more advantageous than hydrogel microparticulates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acrylamides / chemistry
  • Hydrogels / chemistry*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning


  • Acrylamides
  • Hydrogels
  • poly(acrylamide-co-acrylic acid)