Soft materials are matters that can easily deform from their original shapes and structures under thermal or mechanical stresses, and they range across various groups of materials including liquids, foams, gels, colloids, polymers, and biological substances. Although soft materials already have numerous applications with each of their unique characteristics, integrating materials to achieve complementary functionalities is still a growing need for designing advanced applications of complex requirements. This dissertation explores a unique approach of utilizing intermolecular interactions to accomplish not only the multifunctionality from combined materials but also their tailored properties designed for specific tasks. In this work, multifunctional soft materials are explored in two particular directions, ionic liquids (ILs)-based mixtures and interpenetrating polymer network (IPN).
First, ILs-based mixtures were studied to develop liquid electrolytes for molecular electronic transducers (MET) in planetary exploration. For space missions, it is challenging to operate any liquid electrolytes in an extremely low-temperature environment. By tuning intermolecular interactions, the results demonstrated a facile method that has successfully overcome the thermal and transport barriers of ILs-based mixtures at extremely low temperatures. Incorporation of both aqueous and organic solvents in ILs-based electrolyte systems with varying types of intermolecular interactions are investigated, respectively, to yield optimized material properties supporting not only MET sensors but also other electrochemical devices with iodide/triiodide redox couple targeting low temperatures.
Second, an environmentally responsive hydrogel was synthesized via interpenetrating two crosslinked polymer networks. The intermolecular interactions facilitated by such an IPN structure enables not only an upper critical solution temperature (UCST) transition but also a mechanical enhancement of the hydrogel. The incorporation of functional units validates a positive swelling response to visible light and also further improves the mechanical properties. This studied IPN system can serve as a promising route in developing “smart” hydrogels utilizing visible light as a simple, inexpensive, and remotely controllable stimulus.
Over two directions across from ILs to polymeric networks, this work demonstrates an effective strategy of utilizing intermolecular interactions to not only develop multifunctional soft materials for advanced applications but also discover new properties beyond their original boundaries.