Load-bearing soft tissues, e.g., cartilage, ligaments, and blood vessels, are made predominantly from water (65-90%) which is essential for nutrient transport to cells. Yet, they display amazing stiffness, toughness, strength, and deformability attributed to the reconfigurable 3D network from stiff collagen nanofibers and flexible proteoglycans. Existing hydrogels and composites partially achieve some of the mechanical properties of natural soft tissues, but at the expense of water content. Concurrently, water-rich biomedical polymers are elastic but weak. Here, biomimetic composites from aramid nanofibers interlaced with poly(vinyl alcohol), with water contents of as high as 70-92%, are reported. With tensile moduli of ≈9.1 MPa, ultimate tensile strains of ≈325%, compressive strengths of ≈26 MPa, and fracture toughness of as high as ≈9200 J m-2 , their mechanical properties match or exceed those of prototype tissues, e.g., cartilage. Furthermore, with reconfigurable, noncovalent interactions at nanomaterial interfaces, the composite nanofiber network can adapt itself under stress, enabling abiotic soft tissue with multiscale self-organization for effective load bearing and energy dissipation.
Keywords: biomimetic materials; hydrogels; nanocomposites; nanofiber networks; self-organization.
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