Supramolecular building blocks, such as cucurbit[n]uril (CB[n])-based host-guest complexes, have been extensively studied at the nano- and microscale as adhesion promoters. Herein, we exploit a new class of CB[n]-threaded highly branched polyrotaxanes (HBP-CB[n]) as aqueous adhesives to macroscopically bond two wet surfaces, including biological tissue, through the formation of CB heteroternary complexes. The dynamic nature of these complexes gives rise to adhesion with remarkable toughness, displaying recovery and reversible adhesion upon mechanical failure at the interface. Incorporation of functional guests, such as azobenzene moieties, allows for stimuli-activated on-demand adhesion/de-adhesion. Macroscopic interfacial adhesion through dynamic host-guest molecular recognition represents an innovative strategy for designing the next generation of functional interfaces, biomedical devices, tissue adhesives, and wound dressings.
Recent progress on highly tough and stretchable polymer networks has highlighted the potential of wearable electronic devices and structural biomaterials such as cartilage. For some given applications, a combination of desirable mechanical properties including stiffness, strength, toughness, damping, fatigue resistance, and self-healing ability is required. However, integrating such a rigorous set of requirements imposes substantial complexity and difficulty in the design and fabrication of these polymer networks, and has rarely been realized. Here, we describe the construction of supramolecular polymer networks through an in situ copolymerization of acrylamide and functional monomers, which are dynamically complexed with the host molecule cucurbituril (CB). High molecular weight, thus sufficient chain entanglement, combined with a small-amount dynamic CB-mediated non-covalent crosslinking (2.5 mol%), yields extremely stretchable and tough supramolecular polymer networks, exhibiting remarkable self-healing capability at room temperature. These supramolecular polymer networks can be stretched more than 100× their original length and are able to lift objects 2000× their weight. The reversible association/dissociation of the host-guest complexes bestows the networks with remarkable energy dissipation capability, but also facile complete self-healing at room temperature. In addition to their outstanding mechanical properties, the networks are ionically conductive and transparent. The CB-based supramolecular networks are synthetically accessible in large scale and exhibit outstanding mechanical properties. They could readily lead to the promising use as wearable and self-healable electronic devices, sensors and structural biomaterials.
Biomimetic supramolecular dual networks: By mimicking the structure/function model of titin, integration of dynamic cucurbituril mediated host-guest interactions with a trace amount of covalent cross-linking leads to hierarchical dual networks with intriguing toughness, strength, elasticity, and energy dissipation properties. Dynamic host-guest interactions can be dissociated as sacrificial bonds and their facile reformation results in self-recovery of the dual network structure as well as its mechanical properties.
Microencapsulation is a fundamental concept behind a wide range of daily applications ranging from paints, adhesives, and pesticides to targeted drug delivery, transport of vaccines, and self-healing concretes. The beauty of microfluidics to generate microcapsules arises from the capability of fabricating monodisperse and micrometer-scale droplets, which can lead to microcapsules/particles with fine-tuned control over size, shape, and hierarchical structure, as well as high reproducibility, efficient material usage, and high-throughput manipulation. The introduction of supramolecular chemistry, such as host-guest interactions, endows the resultant microcapsules with stimuli-responsiveness and self-adjusting capabilities, and facilitates hierarchical microstructures with tunable stability and porosity, leading to the maturity of current microencapsulation industry. Supramolecular architectures and materials have attracted immense attention over the past decade, as they open the possibility to obtain a large variety of aesthetically pleasing structures, with myriad applications in biomedicine, energy, sensing, catalysis, and biomimicry, on account of the inherent reversible and adaptive nature of supramolecular interactions. As a subset of supramolecular interactions, host-guest molecular recognition involves the formation of inclusion complexes between two or more moieties, with specific three-dimensional structures and spatial arrangements, in a highly controllable and cooperative manner. Such highly selective, strong yet dynamic interactions could be exploited as an alternative methodology for programmable and controllable engineering of supramolecular architectures and materials, exploiting reversible interactions between complementary components. Through the engineering of molecular structures, assemblies can be readily functionalized based on host-guest interactions, with desirable physicochemical characteristics. In this Account, we summarize the current state of development in the field of monodisperse supramolecular microcapsules, fabricated through the integration of traditional microfluidic techniques and interfacial host-guest chemistry, specifically cucurbit[n]uril (CB[n])-mediated host-guest interactions. Three different strategies, colloidal particle-driven assembly, interfacial condensation-driven assembly and electrostatic interaction-driven assembly, are classified and discussed in detail, presenting the methodology involved in each microcapsule formation process. We highlight the state-of-the-art in design and control over structural complexity with desirable functionality, as well as promising applications, such as cargo delivery stemming from the assembled microcapsules. On account of its dynamic nature, the CB[n]-mediated host-guest complexation has demonstrated efficient response toward various external stimuli such as UV light, pH change, redox chemistry, and competitive guests. Herein, we also demonstrate different microcapsule modalities, which are engineered with CB[n] host-guest chemistry and also can be disrupted with the aid of external stimuli, for triggered release of payloads. In addition to the overview of recent achievements and current limitations of these microcapsules, we finally summarize several perspectives on tunable cargo loading and triggered release, directions, and challenges for this technology, as well as possible strategies for further improvement, which will lead to substainitial progress of host-guest chemistry in supramolecular architectures and materials.
The ability to construct self-healing scaffolds that are injectable and capable of forming a designed morphology offers the possibility to engineer sustainable materials. Herein, we introduce supramolecular nested microbeads that can be used as building blocks to construct macroscopic self-healing scaffolds. The core-shell microbeads remain in an "inert" state owing to the isolation of a pair of complementary polymers in a form that can be stored as an aqueous suspension. An annealing process after injection effectively induces the re-construction of the microbead units, leading to supramolecular gelation in a preconfigured shape. The resulting macroscopic scaffold is dynamically stable, displaying self-recovery in a self-healing electronic conductor. This strategy of using the supramolecular assembled nested microbeads as building blocks represents an alternative to injectable hydrogel systems, and shows promise in the field of structural biomaterials and flexible electronics.
The binding of imidazolium salts to cucurbituril, CB, triggers a stepwise self-assembly process with semiflexible polymer chains and crystalline nanostructures as early- and late-stage species, respectively. In such a process, which involves the crystallization of the host-guest complexes, the guest plays a critical role in directing self-assembly toward desirable morphologies. These include platelet-like aggregates and two-dimensional (2D) fibers, which, moreover, exhibit viscoelastic and lyotropic properties. Our observations provide a deeper understanding of the self-assembly of CB complexes, with fundamental implications in the design of functional 2D systems and crystalline materials.