Universal Strain Energy-Mediated Dynamic Porosity in Physically Networked Elastomers and Their Applications

ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2021 May 19;13(19):22987-22999. doi: 10.1021/acsami.1c04367. Epub 2021 May 11.


Mechanical and physical properties of porous polymers are highly dependent on the arrangement of their internal pores, which once synthesized are widely considered static. However, here we introduce an unconventional dynamic porosity strategy in physically networked elastomer polymers, irrespective of their chemistry. This strategy allows for an omnidirectional and reversible reconfiguration of porosity in response to applied mechanical deformations, even at ambient conditions. In particular, the normal contact pressure between human fingers (just 0.62 MPa) applied on thin elastomer films results in a permanent reversion of the pores to a denser and more solid state. The porous-to-solid transition leads to a 3 order of magnitude reduction in pore density and up to a 22% relative volumetric shrinkage of the films, resulting in an opaque-to-transparent transition (OTT) that acts as a visual indication of porosity state (porous vs nonporous). It is shown that the pore reversion pressure onset is dependent on the average pore-to-pore distance that is controllable through process-specific parameters. Furthermore, the porosity transition is reversible for multiple cycles when the through-plane compression activation is coupled with an in-plane stretch (ε = 700%). A strain energy-mediated thermodynamic model is successfully implemented to confirm the effects of mechanical deformations on pore reversion and generation. Finally, applications of the newfound dynamic porosity concept are exploited for pressure indication, on-demand modulation of materials' mechanical and thermal characteristics, and flexible photomasks.

Keywords: dynamic porosity; flexible photomasks; optical property; physically networked elastomers; pressure-sensitive films; reconfigurable properties; stretch-sensitive films.