Tough hydrogels were made by hydrolysis of a neutral interpenetrating network (IPN) of poly (N-vinyl formamide) PNVF and polyacrylamide (PAAm) networks to form an IPN of polyvinylamine (PVAm) and poly (acrylic acid) (PAAc) capable of intermolecular ionic complexation. Single network (SN) PAAm and SN PNVF have similar chemical structures, parameters and physical properties. The hypothesis was that starting with neutral IPN networks of isomeric monomers that hydrolyze to comparable extents under similar conditions would lead to formation of networks with minimal phase separation and maximize potential for charge–charge interactions of the networks. Sequential IPNs of both PNVF/PAAm and PAAm/PNVF were synthesized and were optically transparent, an indication of homogeneity at submicron length scales. Both IPNs were hydrolyzed in base to form PVAm/PAAc and PAAc/PVAm IPNs. These underwent ~5-fold or greater decrease in swelling at intermediate pH values (3–6), consistent with the hypothesis of intermolecular charge complexation, and as hypothesized, the globally neutral, charge-complexed gel states showed substantial increases in failure properties upon compression, including an order of magnitude increases in toughness when compared to their unhydrolyzed states or the swollen states at high or low pH values. There was no loss of mechanical performance upon repeated compression over 95% strain.
Scalet, J.M.; Suekama, T.C.; Jeong, J.; Gehrke, S.H. Enhanced Mechanical Properties by Ionomeric Complexation in Interpenetrating Network Hydrogels of Hydrolyzed Poly (N-vinyl Formamide) and Polyacrylamide. Gels 2021, 7, 80. https://doi.org/10.3390/gels7030080