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Extensive experimental and theoretical research over the past several decades has pursued strategies to develop hydrogels with high mechanical strength. Our study investigated the effect of combining two approaches, addition of nanoparticles and crosslinking two different polymers (to create double-network hydrogels), on the mechanical properties of hydrogels. Our experimental analyses revealed that these orthogonal approaches may be combined to synthesize hydrogel composites with enhanced mechanical properties. However, the enhancement in double network hydrogel elastic modulus due to incorporation of nanoparticles is limited by the ability of the nanoparticles to strongly interact with the polymers in the network. Moreover, double-network hydrogel nanocomposites prepared using lower monomer concentrations showed higher enhancements in elastic moduli compared to those prepared using high monomer concentrations, thus indicating that the concentration of hydrogel monomers used for the preparation of the nanocomposites had a significant effect on the extent of nanoparticle-mediated enhancements. Collectively, these results demonstrate that the hypotheses previously developed to understand the role of nanoparticles on the mechanical properties of hydrogel nanocomposites may be extended to double-network hydrogel systems and guide the development of next-generation hydrogels with extraordinary mechanical properties through a combination of different approaches.


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