Flexible low-density materials, such as aerogels and polymer foams, have received increasing attention as energy absorbers and cushions that protect artificial products and human bodies. Microscopic geometry is a crucial factor determining their mechanical functions, i.e. strength and toughness (flexibility). However, it is a formidable challenge to combine these two properties because they are mutually elusive in general; stiff materials are brittle, while flexible ones are soft. Here, we demonstrate lightweight porous polymeric materials based on a common phenolic resin, resorcinol-formaldehyde (RF) gels, with salient combinatorial properties of high stiffness (up to 100 MPa) and good recoverable compressibility (against 80-90% strain), which can deliver remarkable energy absorption and dissipation performances repetitively. The detailed investigation reveals that the unique mechanical features originate from the synergetic effect of interdigitated hard and soft components in polymer matrices as well as exquisitely designed highly branched microstructures both generated through the spontaneous supramolecular self-assembly of the nonionic block copolymer (F127) and RF oligomer, which is essentially analogous to how natural organisms create biological structural materials, e.g. nacre and bone.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Chemical Engineering(all)
- Materials Chemistry