Soft materials

  • Article
    | Open Access

    Organic cluster-triggered emission (CTE) displays promising application in bioimaging, chemical sensing, and multicolor luminescence but circular polarize luminescence derived from CTE remains less studied. Here, the authors demonstrate CTE based CPL emission from a supramolecular film derived from solid phase molecular self-assembly.

    • Peilong Liao
    • , Shihao Zang
    •  & Yun Yan
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Wong et al. demonstrate the efficacy of super-amphiphobic surfaces for in situ defoaming and inhibition of foam growth while handling aqueous solutions. Without the use of chemical additives, their passive approach suggests a facile alternative route to froth management in industrial processes.

    • William S. Y. Wong
    • , Abhinav Naga
    •  & Doris Vollmer
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Multistep nucleation phenomena are of considerable fundamental interest. Here the authors combine molecular dynamics, machine learning and molecular cluster analysis to investigate the multistep nucleation of smectic clusters from a nematic fluid that cannot be accounted for by the classical nucleation theory.

    • Kazuaki Z. Takahashi
    • , Takeshi Aoyagi
    •  & Jun-ichi Fukuda
  • Article
    | Open Access

    By now a plethora of ultrathin hydrophobic coatings are available but their durability are not well developed. Here, the authors present a thin, durable and fluorine-free PDMS-based vitrimer coating that implements many desirable aspects like energy efficiency, durability and sustainability.

    • Jingcheng Ma
    • , Laura E. Porath
    •  & Christopher M. Evans
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The transformation of planar aromatic molecules into non-planar structures is a challenging task and has not been realized by mechanochemistry before. Here, the authors demonstrate that mechanochemical forces can transform a planar polyarene into a curved geometry by creating new C-C bonds along the rim of the molecular structure.

    • Teoh Yong
    • , Gábor Báti
    •  & Mihaiela C. Stuparu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    In chocolate production, a complicated tempering process is used to guide the crystallization of cocoa butter towards its most desirable polymorph, which gives the chocolate proper melting behavior, gloss, and snap—hallmarks of good quality chocolate. Here, the authors find that simply adding a specific phospholipid also directs crystallization towards this polymorph, producing chocolate with comparable microstructure and properties to tempered chocolate.

    • Jay Chen
    • , Saeed M. Ghazani
    •  & Alejandro G. Marangoni
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Rapid growth of highly crystalline Covalent organic framework (COF) materials remains challenging. Here, the authors accelerate single-crystal polymerization using supercritical CO2 and realize the fabrication of two-dimensional COF single crystals within several minutes.

    • Lan Peng
    • , Qianying Guo
    •  & Dacheng Wei
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Direct bioprinting in vivo has the potential to enable new clinical strategies but is currently limited by printing techniques. Here, the authors report on the development of a ferromagnetic soft catheter for magnetic computer controlled minimally invasive bioprinting and demonstrate the printing potential in vivo.

    • Cheng Zhou
    • , Youzhou Yang
    •  & Jianfeng Zang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The morphology of semicrystalline plastics on the 1-100 μm scale, such as spherulites, strongly affect mechanical and other properties of the material but currently only 2D imaging techniques are available. Here, the authors use fluorescence labels and confocal microscopy to visualize the internal structure of neat polymers and composites in 3D and reveal unsuspected morphologies.

    • Shu-Gui Yang
    • , Zhen-Zhen Wei
    •  & Goran Ungar
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Nematic liquid crystals with polar order bear great potential for many applications but their rational design is difficult. Mandle et al. outline a set of design principles for this new phase of matter, guided by experiments and simulation, showing polar order to be driven by steric interactions.

    • Richard J. Mandle
    • , Nerea Sebastián
    •  & Alenka Mertelj
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Permanently retaining liquid crystalline blue phases in a solid matrix warrants many prospective applications in photonics. Schlafmann and White are able to make a blue phase rubber that retains a crystalline structure upon deformation and responds with angle-dependent color changes.

    • Kyle R. Schlafmann
    •  & Timothy J. White
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Widely existing self-organised complex structures in nature exhibit a high level of sophistication, yet can one program the self-assembly process to achieve similar result in the lab remains unanswered. Here, Serafin et al. present a non-Euclidean self-assembly theory for polyhedral nanoparticles that offers insight on how to manipulate the process for realising new material capabilities.

    • Francesco Serafin
    • , Jun Lu
    •  & Xiaoming Mao
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Wearable polymer ultraviolet (UV) detectors seriously suffer from slow response time. Here, the authors propose a UV illuminance-mechanical stress-electric signal conversion based on well-defined ionic liquid-containing liquid crystalline polymer and highly elastic polyurethane composite fabrics, to achieve a robust UV monitoring and shielding device with a fast response time of 5 s.

    • Xiaoxiong Zheng
    • , Yining Jia
    •  & Aihua Chen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The orientation of polymer chains in the corona of polymer-grafted nanoparticles has never been measured. Here, the authors use polarized resonant soft X-ray scattering to measure local chain orientation in polystyrene grafted gold nanoparticles and quantify the thickness of the anisotropic region of the corona as well as the extent of chain orientation within it.

    • Subhrangsu Mukherjee
    • , Jason K. Streit
    •  & Dean M. DeLongchamp
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Biobased poly(γ-methyl-α-methylene-γ-butyrolactone) (PMMBL) has attracted interest because it is biorenewable and exhibits superior properties to petroleum-based linear analog poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA). Here the authors report the synthesis of well-defined PMMBL-based ABA tri-block copolymers, enabled by dual-initiating and living frustrated Lewis pairs, which have superior mechanical properties compared to those of PMMA-based tri-BCPs.

    • Yun Bai
    • , Huaiyu Wang
    •  & Eugene Y.-X. Chen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Various strategies to assemble protein building blocks into one-, two- and three-dimensional hierarchical nanostructures were described, but controlling the transformation between those different assemblies is largely uninvestigated. Here, the authors describe a protein interface redesign strategy and use it for the self-assembly transformation of dimeric building blocks from hollow protein nanocage to filament, nanorod and nanoribbon.

    • Xiaorong Zhang
    • , Yu Liu
    •  & Guanghua Zhao
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Changing the propulsion of simple artificial colloidal microswimmers usually proceeds by globally tuning the strength of the driving mechanism. Alvarez et al. implement an independent reconfiguration scheme, bringing small active particles one step closer to adaptive, autonomous behaviour.

    • L. Alvarez
    • , M. A. Fernandez-Rodriguez
    •  & Lucio Isa
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Electrochemiluminescence (ECL) plays a key role in analysis and sensing but its application is limited by a lack of highly tunable luminophores. Here, the authors demonstrate the design of high efficient ECL luminophores of covalent organic frameworks (COFs) in aqueous media by simultaneously restricting the donor and acceptor to the COFs’ electron configurations and constructing charge transport networks through olefin linkages.

    • Ya-Jie Li
    • , Wei-Rong Cui
    •  & Jian-Ding Qiu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Maragoni microswimmers show the advantage of self-propulsion but their development is limited by fabrication techniques. Here, the authors use a photopatterning method which allows for a high throughput production of maragoni microswimmers with multiple functional parts and distinct materials properties.

    • Yeongjae Choi
    • , Cheolheon Park
    •  & Wook Park
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Despite advances on fabrication of stretchable interconnects, realizing functional electronics with integrated solid-state technology (SST) remains a challenge. Here, the authors report a reversible Pol-Gel transition method for fabrication of liquid-metal based, chip-integrated, printed stretchable circuits.

    • Pedro Alhais Lopes
    • , Bruno C. Santos
    •  & Mahmoud Tavakoli
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Despite many reports on nanoparticle-covalent organic frameworks (COF) composites, a universal strategy for the synthesis of monodisperse core-shell structured COF nanocomposites remains challenging. Here, the authors develop a strategy for interfacial growth of highly crystalline COFs on functional nanoparticles with abundant optical, electrical and magnetic properties.

    • Liang Chen
    • , Wenxing Wang
    •  & Xiaomin Li
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Fine tuning of mechanical properties in elastomers is important for application of elastomers in flexible devices and biomedical field. Here, the authors prepare a nacre inspired PDMS-montmorrillonite composite with good mechanical properties and demonstrate crack tracing using aggregation-induced emission luminogens.

    • Jingsong Peng
    • , Antoni P. Tomsia
    •  & Qunfeng Cheng
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) with large electrically actuated strain can be used in non-magnetic motors, but high stiffness, poor strength and slow response currently limit the application of DEAs. Here, the authors optimize the crosslinking network in a polyacrylate elastomer to enable a DEA with high toughness and actuation strain and use the polyacrylate to build a motor which can be driven under low electric field.

    • Li-Juan Yin
    • , Yu Zhao
    •  & Zhi-Min Dang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    For many polymers, recycling via mechanical processes is not feasible and these materials are destined for landfills or incineration. Here the authors show an open-loop recycling method for superabsorbent polymers that involves decrosslinking via hydrolysis, an optional chain-shortening step via sonication, and functionalizing via Fischer esterification.

    • P. Takunda Chazovachii
    • , Madeline J. Somers
    •  & Anne J. McNeil
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Self-healing property is important for supercapacitors when powering the electronics, but designing devices that possess a universal healing mechanism remains challenging. Here, the authors achieve an optically, electrically, and magnetically-responsive self-healing device with integrated configuration.

    • Haili Qin
    • , Ping Liu
    •  & Shu-Hong Yu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Understanding the origin of transient spatio-temporal response of colloidal gels is an essential aspect for their application. Nabizadeh and Jamali demonstrate the coupling between the lifetime of colloidal bonds and the rheology from computer simulations on steadily sheared model gels.

    • Mohammad Nabizadeh
    •  & Safa Jamali
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The development of tissue-like materials which replicate the mechanical properties of tissue is of interest for a range of applications. Here, the authors report on the development of radial asters that form a gel network to stiffen in compression and soften in extension, resembling tissue mechanics.

    • Qingqiao Xie
    • , Yuandi Zhuang
    •  & Lingxiang Jiang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The design of piezochromic luminescent materials with desirable stimuliresponsive properties remains challenging. Here, the authors report the insertion of a non-emissive molecule into a donor and acceptor binary cocrystal and realize desirable piezochromic luminescent properties by manipulation of intermolecular interactions between the donor and acceptor molecules.

    • Chunguang Zhai
    • , Xiu Yin
    •  & Bingbing Liu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Despite the ubiquity of singlet carbenes in chemistry, their utility as true monomeric building blocks for the synthesis of functional organic polymers has been underexplored. Here the authors show mono- and bis-acyclic amino(aryl)carbenes selectively dimerize to form diaminoalkenes and hitherto unknown amino-containing poly(p-phenylene vinylene)s.

    • Quentin Sobczak
    • , Aravindu Kunche
    •  & Joan Vignolle
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Normally the diffusionless solid-to-solid transition between phases are driven by athermal processes, due to strain being overwhelmingly dominant. Here, the authors present a unique series of in-situ particle level observations of the solid-to-solid transition in colloidal particles suspended in a solvent, revealing new transition pathways.

    • Minhuan Li
    • , Zhengyuan Yue
    •  & Peng Tan
  • Article
    | Open Access

    3D real-space analysis of thick nanoparticle crystals is non-trivial. Here, the authors demonstrate the structural analysis of a bulk-like Laves phase by imaging an off-stoichiometric binary mixture of hard-sphere-like nanoparticles in spherical confinement by electron tomography, enabling defect analysis on the single-particle level.

    • Da Wang
    • , Ernest B. van der Wee
    •  & Alfons van Blaaderen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Past studies on protein nucleation have focused on the routes that molecules follow towards a crystalline cluster, while possible interactions that may occur between nuclei have not been investigated. Here, the authors show that in the high supersaturation limit such interactions dominate the nucleation process in the form of inter-nucleus docking driving by oriented attachment.

    • Alexander E. S. Van Driessche
    • , Nani Van Gerven
    •  & Mike Sleutel
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Upscale fabrication of functionalized microparticles is a pending challenge. Here, Kim et al. exploit the rheology of a thixotropic medium to grind sizeable amounts of raw material into well-defined colloidal dispersions, physically stabilized for further production steps.

    • Sang Yup Kim
    • , Shanliangzi Liu
    •  & Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Cyclohexadienes have been widely explored as proaromatic surrogates for group transfer reactions but limited storage stability and difficult accessibility of these compounds limits the application range. Here, the authors present a class of proaromatic bicyclo[2.2.0]hexene derivatives and demonstrate their application in alkyl transfer reactions and sensing applications.

    • Bin Wu
    • , Jianing Wang
    •  & Rong Zhu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The removal of ethane from ethylene is of importance in the petrochemical industry, but similar physicochemical properties of these molecules makes separation a challenging task. Here, the authors demonstrate that a robust octahedral calix[4]resorcinarene-based porous organic cage can separate high-purity ethylene from ethane/ethylene mixtures.

    • Kongzhao Su
    • , Wenjing Wang
    •  & Daqiang Yuan
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Studying the development of silk structure is important for understanding material properties and biomimetics. Here, the authors use ex vivo processing to characterise the stages of silk spinning and identify a consolidation phase where transient water pockets emerge due to multiple factors leading to nanofibril coalescence.

    • Quan Wan
    • , Mei Yang
    •  & Mingying Yang
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Designing intrinsically stretchable semiconducting polymers with suitable charge transport and mechanical properties required for stretchable electronic devices remains a challenge. Here, the authors report terpolymer-based semiconductors with intrinsically high stretchability and mobility.

    • Jaewan Mun
    • , Yuto Ochiai
    •  & Zhenan Bao
  • Article
    | Open Access

    3D culture systems can provide critical insights into cellular behaviour. Here, the authors study the binding timescale of dynamic crosslinks and the conjugation stability of cell-adhesive ligands in cell–hydrogel network interactions to evaluate the impact on stem cell behaviour, mechanosensing and differentiation.

    • Boguang Yang
    • , Kongchang Wei
    •  & Liming Bian
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Realizing ultra-high work functions (UHWFs) in hole-doped polymer semiconductors remains a challenge due to water-oxidation reactions. Here, the authors determine the role of water-anion complexes in limiting the work function and develop a design strategy for realizing UHWF polymers.

    • Qi-Mian Koh
    • , Cindy Guanyu Tang
    •  & Peter K. H. Ho
  • Review Article
    | Open Access

    Water scarcity is a rapidly spreading global challenge but water purification technologies are often not sustainable. Here, the authors review the research on water purification technologies based on protein nanofibrils as a green and affordable solution to alleviate a water crisis.

    • Mohammad Peydayesh
    •  & Raffaele Mezzenga
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Self-oscillating systems that enable autonomous motions driven by a constant stimulus find applications in numerous fields but these systems are plagued with problems that restrict their practical applicability. Here, the authors create a photoactive self-winding fiber actuator that possesses a broad range of oscillation modes, controllable evolution between diverse modes, and loading capability.

    • Zhiming Hu
    • , Yunlong Li
    •  & Jiu-an Lv