Novel Tough and Transparent Ultra-Extensible Nanocomposite Elastomers Based on Poly(2-methoxyethylacrylate) and Their Switching between Plasto-Elasticity and Viscoelasticity

Polymers (Basel). 2021 Dec 4;13(23):4254. doi: 10.3390/polym13234254.


Novel stiff, tough, highly transparent and ultra-extensible self-assembled nanocomposite elastomers based on poly(2-methoxyethylacrylate) (polyMEA) were synthesized. The materials are physically crosslinked by small in-situ-formed silica nanospheres, sized 3-5 nm, which proved to be a very efficient macro-crosslinker in the self-assembled network architecture. Very high values of yield stress (2.3 MPa), tensile strength (3.0 MPa), and modulus (typically 10 MPa), were achieved in combination with ultra-extensibility: the stiffest sample was breaking at 1610% of elongation. Related nanocomposites doubly filled with nano-silica and clay nano-platelets were also prepared, which displayed interesting synergy effects of the fillers at some compositions. All the nanocomposites exhibit 'plasto-elastic' tensile behaviour in the 'as prepared' state: they display considerable energy absorption (and also 'necking' like plastics), but at the same time a large but not complete (50%) retraction of deformation. However, after the first large tensile deformation, the materials irreversibly switch to 'real elastomeric' tensile behaviour (with some creep). The initial 'plasto-elastic' stretching thus causes an internal rearrangement. The studied materials, which additionally are valuable due to their high transparency, could be of application interest as advanced structural materials in soft robotics, in implant technology, or in regenerative medicine. The presented study focuses on structure-property relationships, and on their effects on physical properties, especially on the complex tensile, elastic and viscoelastic behaviour of the polyMEA nanocomposites.

Keywords: clay; elastomers; nanocomposites; physical networks; poly(methoxyethyl acrylate); self-assembly; silica; tough elastomers; transparent.