Read the full article here: Nanoscale, 2020,12, 12958
The twisted plywood structure as found in crustacean shells possesses excellent mechanical properties with high stiffness and toughness. Synthetic mimics can be produced by evaporation-induced self-assembly of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) with polymer components into bulk films with a cholesteric liquid crystal structure. However, these are often excessively brittle and it has remained challenging to make materials combining high stiffness and toughness. Here, we describe self-assembling cholesteric CNC/polymer nanocomposites with a crustacean-mimetic structure and tunable photonic band gap, in which we engineer combinations of thermo-activated covalent and supramolecular hydrogen-bonded crosslinks to tailor the energy dissipation properties by precise molecular design. Toughening occurs upon increasing the polymer fractions in the nanocomposites, and, critically, combinations of both molecular bonding mechanisms lead to a considerable synergetic increase of stiffness and toughness – beyond the common rule of mixtures. Our concept following careful molecular design allows one to enter previously unreached areas of mechanical property charts for cholesteric CNC-based nanocomposites. The study shows that the subtle engineering of molecular energy dissipation units using sophisticated chemical approaches enables efficient enhancing of the properties of bioinspired CNC/polymer nanocomposites, and opens the design space for future molecular enhancement using tailor-made interactions.