Self-Healing crosslinked nanogel network, with 30% labile crosslinks which encompass up to 4 labile bonds, under tensile deformation.
We develop a hybrid computational approach to examine the mechanical properties and self-healing behavior of nanogel particles that are cross-linked by both stable and labile bonds. The individual nanogels are modeled via the lattice spring model (LSM), which is an effective method for probing the response of materials to mechanical deformation. The cross-links between the nanogels are simulated via the hierarchical Bell model (HBM), which allows us to capture the rupturing of multiple parallel bonds as the result of an applied force. Because the labile bonds are relatively reactive, they can reform after they have been ruptured. To incorporate the possibility of bonds reforming, we modify the HBM formalism and validate the modified HBM by considering a system of two surfaces, which are connected by multiple parallel bonds. We then use our hybrid HBM/LSM to simulate the behavior of the cross-linked nanogels under a tensile deformation. In these simulations, each labile linkage between the nanogels contains at most N parallel bonds. We vary the fraction of labile linkages and the value of N in these linkages to determine the optimal conditions for improving the robustness of the material. Although numerous parallel bonds within a linkage enhance the strength of the material, these bonds diminish the ductility and the ability of the material to undergo the structural rearrangements that are necessary for self-repair. For a relatively low fraction of labile bonds and N . 4, however, we can significantly improve the strength of the material and preserve the self-healing properties. For instance, a sample with 30% labile linkages and N = 4 per linkage is roughly 200% stronger than a sample that is cross-linked solely by stable bonds and can still undergo self-repair in response to the tensile deformation. The results reveal how mechanical stress can lead not only to the appearance of cavities within the material but also to bond formation that "heals" these cavities and thus prevents the catastrophic failure of the material.
Updated: Aug, 2011