Shaping and Structuring Supramolecular Gels

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JournalNature Reviews Materials
DateAccepted/In press - 9 Apr 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 23 May 2019
DatePublished (current) - Jul 2019
Pages (from-to)463-478
Early online date23/05/19
Original languageEnglish


Supramolecular gels assemble via non-covalent interactions between low-molecular-weight gelators (LMWGs). The gels form a solid-like nanoscale network spanning a liquid-like continuous phase, translating molecular-scale information into materials performance. However, gels based on LMWGs are often difficult to manipulate, easily destroyed and have poor rheological performance. The recurring image of newly-discovered supramolecular gels is that of an inverted vial showing that the gel can support its own weight against gravity. Such images reflect the limitation that these gels simply fill the vessel in which they are made, with limited ability to be shaped. This property prevents supramolecular gels from having the same impact as polymer gels, despite greater synthetic tunability, reversibility and bio/environmental compatibility. In this Review, we evaluate strategies for imposing different shapes onto supramolecular gels and for patterning structures within them. We review fabrication methods including moulding, self-healing, 3D printing, photopatterning, diffusion and surface-mediated patterning. We discuss gelator chemistries amenable to each method, highlighting how a multi-component approach can aid shaping and structuring. Supramolecular gels with defined shapes, or patterned structures with precisely-controlled compositions, have the potential to intervene in applications such as tissue engineering and nanoscale electronics, as well as opening-up new technologies.

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