Hydration studies in polymer hydrogels



Polymer hydrogels have attracted much interest in recent years based on numerous applications mainly in biotechnology and medicine. For the knowledge-based design and development of new materials for these and similar applications, it is essential to understand better the hydration properties of hydrogels and of polymers in general. With this term, we mean the particular organization of water in the hydrogel, which determines the properties of the water component, typically different than those of bulk water, and the impact of water on the properties of the polymer matrix itself. In this review, we focus on recent work with hydrogels based on poly(hydroxyethyl acrylate), mostly copolymers with a second hydrophobic polymer and silica nanocomposites. The combination of water sorption/diffusion, thermal and dielectric studies, by fully exploiting the capabilities of each individual technique, proves essential in providing significant information on particular aspects of hydration, such as water uptake, water organization, and diffusion coefficients; glass transition and plasticization; water and polymer dynamics; protonic conductivity, and in revealing interesting correlations between these particular aspects. In the outlook similarities and differences to other related systems, such as protein-water and polymer solutions in non-polar solvents, are stressed in the perspective of a broader study. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part B: Polym Phys, 2013