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In Materials horizons

Exploring novel healing mechanisms is a constant impetus for the development of self-healing materials. Herein, we find that side-chain interlocking of bottlebrush polymers can form a dynamic network and thereby serve as a driving force for the self-healing process of the materials. Molecular dynamics simulation indicates that the interlocking is formed by the interpenetration between the long side chains of adjacent molecules and stabilized by van der Waals interactions and molecular entanglements of side chains. The interlocking can be tailored by changing the length and density of the side chains through atom transfer radical polymerization. As a result, the optimized bottlebrush polymer shows a healing efficiency of up to 100%. Unlike chemical interactions, side-chain interlocking eliminates the introduction of specific chemical groups. Therefore, bottlebrush polymers can even self-heal under harsh aqueous conditions, including acid and alkali solutions. Moreover, the highly dynamic side-chain interlocking enables bottlebrush polymers to efficiently dissipate vibration energy, and thus they can be used as damping materials. Collectively, side-chain interlocking expands the scope of physical interactions in self-healing materials and hews out a versatile way for polymers to accomplish self-healing capability in various environments.

Xiong Hui, Yue Tongkui, Wu Qi, Zhang Linjun, Xie Zhengtian, Liu Jun, Zhang Liqun, Wu Jinrong