Multi-responsive hydrogel structures from patterned droplet networks

Nat Chem. 2020 Apr;12(4):363-371. doi: 10.1038/s41557-020-0444-1. Epub 2020 Mar 27.


Responsive hydrogels that undergo controlled shape changes in response to a range of stimuli are of interest for microscale soft robotic and biomedical devices. However, these applications require fabrication methods capable of preparing complex, heterogeneous materials. Here we report a new approach for making patterned, multi-material and multi-responsive hydrogels, on a micrometre to millimetre scale. Nanolitre aqueous pre-gel droplets were connected through lipid bilayers in predetermined architectures and photopolymerized to yield continuous hydrogel structures. By using this droplet network technology to pattern domains containing temperature-responsive or non-responsive hydrogels, structures that undergo reversible curling were produced. Through patterning of gold nanoparticle-containing domains into the hydrogels, light-activated shape change was achieved, while domains bearing magnetic particles allowed movement of the structures in a magnetic field. To highlight our technique, we generated a multi-responsive hydrogel that, at one temperature, could be moved through a constriction under a magnetic field and, at a second temperature, could grip and transport a cargo.

Publication types

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