Conditional repair by locally switching the thermal healing capability of dynamic covalent polymers with light

Healable materials could play an important role in reducing the environmental footprint of our modern technological society through extending the life cycles of consumer products and constructions. However, as most healing processes are carried out by heat alone, the ability to heal damage generally kills the parent material’s thermal and mechanical properties. Here we present a dynamic covalent polymer network whose thermal healing ability can be switched ‘on’ and ‘off’ on demand by light, thereby providing local control over repair while retaining the advantageous macroscopic properties of static polymer networks. We employ a photoswitchable furan-based crosslinker, which reacts with short and mobile maleimide-substituted poly(lauryl methacrylate) chains forming strong covalent bonds while simultaneously allowing the reversible, spatiotemporally resolved control over thermally induced de- and re-crosslinking. We reason that our system can be adapted to more complex materials and has the potential to impact applications in responsive coatings, photolithography and microfabrication.



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