Liquid crystalline behavior of graphene oxide in the formation and deformation of tough nanocomposite hydrogels
In this paper, we report the formation and transformation of graphene oxide (GO) liquid crystalline (LC) structures in the synthesis and deformation of tough GO nanocomposite hydrogels. GO aqueous dispersions form a nematic LC phase, while the addition of poly(N-vinylpyrrolidone) (PVP) and acrylamide (AAm), which are capable of forming hydrogen bonding with GO nanosheets, shifts the isotropic/nematic transition to a lower volume fraction of GO and enhances the formation of nematic droplets. During the gelation process, a phase separation of the polymers and GO nanosheets is accompanied by the directional assembly of GO nanosheets, forming large LC tactoids with a radial GO configuration. The shape of the large tactoids evolves from a sphere to a toroid as the tactoids increase in size. Interestingly, during cyclic uniaxial tensile deformation a reversible LC transition is observed in the very tough hydrogels. The isolated birefringent domains and the LC domains in the tactoids in the gels are highly oriented under a high tensile strain.