Conductive Tough Hydrogels with a Staggered Ion-Coordinating Structure for High Self-Recovery Rate

Conductive hydrogels are attracting increasing attention owing to their great potential for applications in flexible devices. For practical use, these high-water-content materials should not only show good conductivity but also be strong, stretchable, tough, and elastic. Herein, we describe a class of novel conductive tough hydrogels based on strong staggered Fe3+-carboxyl coordinating interactions. They are made from copolymers of acrylamide and N-acryloyl glutamic acid, a bidentate-based comonomer. The design of the staggered structure of Fe3+ and bidentate units is expected to enable energy dissipation and also results in a synergetic effect of two binding sites for fast self-recovery. We demonstrate that the equilibrated hydrogels with a water content of 53 wt % exhibit superior mechanical properties (e.g., highest tensile strength, 12.1 MPa; Young’s modulus, 36.1 MPa; work of extension, 42.1 MJ m–3; fracture energy, 10,691 J m–2; compressive strength, 65.1 MPa at 98% strain without a macroscopic fracture) compared to the ion-coordinated hydrogels reported to date, including elasticity at small strain, fast self-recoverability at room temperature (∼25 °C), a high dielectric constant (k = 341–1395 at 100 kHz), and good electrical conductivity (0.0018–0.024 S cm–1). Given their extraordinary overall characteristics, we envision their potential applications in flexible electronic devices.