Thermal actuation of hydrogels from PNIPAm, alginate, and carbon nanofibres
Composite ionic-covalent entanglement (ICE) hydrogel networks were prepared from poly(N-isopropylacrylamide), alginate, and carbon nanofibres. An optimised triple network hydrogel with 86% water content exhibited a compressive strength of 3.0 ± 0.1 MPa and 66 ± 13 mS/cm electrical conductivity. Thermal actuation was shown to have a shorter response time for gels containing nanofibres, compared to those which did not and hydrogel samples more than halved in volume within 1 minute when placed in a 60 °C water bath. Controlled dye release was demonstrated as a potential application and used to further quantify thermal actuation over short times. Joule heating techniques were used to electronically actuate the hydrogel samples, removing the traditional requirements for immersion in a temperature controlled liquid. It is expected that devices based on these materials will find potential applications in soft robotics and micro fluidics.