Growing Strategy for Postmodifying Cross-Linked Polymers’ Bulky Size, Shape, and Mechanical Properties

Living organisms are open systems that can incorporate externally provided nutrients to vary their appearances and properties, while synthetic materials normally have fixed sizes, shapes, and functions. Herein, we report a strategy for enabling cross-linked polymers to continuously grow with programmable bulky structures and properties. The growing strategy involves repeatable processes including swelling of polymerizable components into the cross-linked polymers, in situ polymerization of the components, and homogenization of the original and newborn polymer networks. Using acrylate-based polymers as an example, we demonstrate that homogenization allows the grown polymer materials to further integrate various polymerizable components to alternate their bulky properties. During the growth, the changes from elastomers to organogels and then to hydrogels with updated covalent-linked functions (i.e., photochromism and thermoresponsiveness) are shown. Since this growing strategy is applicable to different acrylate systems, we envision its great potential in the design of next-generation polymers, smartening systems, and postmodification of cross-linked polymer materials.