Surface-initiated self-healing of polymers in aqueous media

Polymeric materials that intrinsically heal at damage sites under wet or moist conditions are urgently needed for biomedical and environmental applications. Although hydrogels with self-mending properties have been engineered by means of mussel-inspired metal-chelating catechol-functionalized polymer networks, biological self-healing in wet conditions, as occurs in self-assembled holdfast proteins in mussels and other marine organisms, is generally thought to involve more than reversible metal chelates. Here we demonstrate self-mending in metal-free water of synthetic polyacrylate and polymethacrylate materials that are surface-functionalized with mussel-inspired catechols. Wet self-mending of scission in these polymers is initiated and accelerated by hydrogen bonding between interfacial catechol moieties, and consolidated by the recruitment of other non-covalent interactions contributed by subsurface moieties. The repaired and pristine samples show similar mechanical properties, suggesting that the triggering of complete self-healing is enabled underwater by the formation of extensive catechol-mediated interfacial hydrogen bonds.

B. K. Ahn, D-W. Lee, J. N. Israelachvili, and J. H. Waite
Nature Materials
Volume: 13
Pages: 867-872
Date: September, 2014
ICB Affiliated Authors: Jacob N Israelachvili, J. Herbert Waite