Local Mechanism Governs Global Reinforcement of Nanofiller-Hydrogel Composites

I Dellatolas and M Bantawa and B Damerau and M Guo and T Divoux and E Del Gado and I Bischofberger, ACS NANO, 17, 20939-20948 (2023).

DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.3c00716

We reveal the mechanism for the strong reinforcement of attractive nanofiller-hydrogel composites. Measuring the linear viscoelastic properties of hydrogels containing filler nanoparticles, we show that a significant increase of the modulus can be achieved at unexpectedly low volume fractions of nanofillers when the filler-hydrogel interactions are attractive. Using three-dimensional numerical simulations, we identify a general microscopic mechanism for the reinforcement, common to hydrogel matrices of different compositions and concentrations and containing nanofillers of varying sizes. The attractive interactions induce a local increase in the gel density around the nanofillers. The effective fillers, composed of the nanofillers and the densified regions around them, assemble into a percolated network, which constrains the gel displacement and enhances the stress coupling throughout the system. A global reinforcement of the composite is induced as the stresses become strongly coupled. This physical mechanism of reinforcement, which relies only on attractive filler-matrix interactions, provides design strategies for versatile composites that combine low nanofiller fractions with an enhanced mechanical strength.

Return to Publications page