Highly stretchable electrically conductive hydrogels have been extensively researched in recent years, especially for applications in strain and pressure sensing, electronic skin and implantable bioelectronic devices. Herein, we present a new cross-linked complex coacervate approach to prepare conductive hydrogels that are both highly stretchable and compressive. The gels involve a complex coacervate between carboxylated nanogels (NGs) and branched poly(ethylene imine) (PEI), whereby the latter is covalently crosslinked by poly(ethylene glycol) diglycidyl ether (PEGDGE). Inclusion of graphene nanoplatelets (Gnp) provides electrical conductivity as well as tensile and compressive strain sensing capability to the hydrogels. We demonstrate that judicious selection of the molecular weight of the PEGDGE crosslinker enables the mechanical properties of these hydrogels to be tuned. Indeed, the gels prepared with a PEGDGE molecular weight of 6,000 g/mol defy the general rule that toughness decreases as strength increases. The conductive hydrogels achieve a compressive strength of 25 MPa and stretchability of up to 1500%. These new gels are both adhesive and conformal. They provide a self-healable electronic circuit, respond rapidly to human motion and can act as strain-dependent sensors, while exhibiting low cytotoxicity. Our new approach to conductive gel preparation is efficient, involves only preformed components and is scalable.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 9 Feb 2021|