Synthesis, self-assembly, and photomechanical actuator performance of a sequence-defined polyviologen crosslinker

Although it is well known that viologen radical cations can self-assemble into stacks or complexes on account of radical-radical pairing interactions, it has only recently been demonstrated that reduction of main-chain polyviologens integrated into hydrogel networks can trigger actuation. In these earlier examples, hydrogels comprising oligoethylene glycol-based polyviologens and poly(ethylene glycol) were functionalized with terminal azide groups to prepare ‘click’-based gels. Here, we report a new structural design for the functional polyviologen that consists of main-chain viologen subunits separated by hexamethylene groups instead of glycols and is capped at each end with styrene groups. Activation of this viologen-based macrocrosslinker was achieved using chemical- and photoreduction methods and its ability to undergo intramolecular chain-folding was monitored by absorption spectroscopy. Acrylate-based organogels and hydrogels were also prepared and a comparison was carried out to assess the actuator performance in each gel in terms of the rate of contraction and changes in stiffness.