Crosslinking Metal Nanoparticles into the Polymer Backbone of Hydrogels Enables Preparation of Soft, Magnetic Field-Driven Actuators with Muscle-Like Flexibility



The combination of force and flexibility is at the core of biomechanics and enables virtually all body movements in living organisms. In sharp contrast, presently used machines are based on rigid, linear (cylinders) or circular (rotator in an electrical engine) geometries. As a potential bioinspired alternative, magnetic elastomers can be realized through dispersion of micro- or nanoparticles in polymer matrices and have attracted significant interest as soft actuators in artificial organs, implants, and devices for controlled drug delivery. At present, magnetic particle loss and limited actuator strength have restricted the use of such materials to niche applications. We describe the direct incorporation of metal nanoparticles into the backbone of a hydrogel and application as an ultra-flexible, yet strong magnetic actuator. Covalent bonding of the particles prevents metal loss or leaching. Since metals have a far higher saturation magnetization and higher density than oxides, the resulting increased force/volume ratio afforded significantly stronger magnetic actuators with high mechanical stability, elasticity, and shape memory effect.