Flexible and Shape-Reconfigurable Hydrogel Interlocking Adhesives for High Adhesion in Wet Environments Based on Anisotropic Swelling of Hydrogel Microstructures

This study presents wet-responsive, shape-reconfigurable, and flexible hydrogel adhesives that exhibit strong adhesion under wet environments based on reversible interlocking between reconfigurable microhook arrays. The experimental investigation on the swelling behavior and structural characterization of the hydrogel microstructures reveal that the microhook arrays undergo anisotropic swelling and shape transformation upon contact with water. The adhesion between the interlocked microhook arrays is greatly enhanced under wet conditions because of the hydration-triggered shape reconfiguration of the hydrogel microstructures. Furthermore, wet adhesion monotonically increases with water-exposure time. A maximum adhesion force of 79.9 N cm<sup>–2</sup> in the shear direction is obtained with the hydrogel microhook array after 20 h of swelling, which is 732.3% greater than that under dry conditions (i.e., 9.6 N cm<sup>–2</sup>). A simple theoretical model is developed to describe the measured adhesion forces. The results are in good agreement with the experimental data.