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Mechanochromic, Structurally Colored, and Edible Hydrogels Prepared from Hydroxypropyl Cellulose and Gelatin.

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Hydroxypropyl cellulose (HPC) is an edible, cost-effective and widely used derivative of cellulose. Under lyotropic conditions in water, HPC forms a photonic, liquid crystalline mesophase with an exceptional mechanochromic response. However, due to insufficient physical cross-linking photonic HPC can flow freely as a viscous liquid, preventing the exploitation of this mechanochromic material in the absence of any external encapsulation or structural confinement. Here this challenge is addressed by mixing HPC and gelatin in water to form a self-supporting, viscoelastic, and edible supramolecular photonic hydrogel. It is demonstrated that the structural coloration, mechanochromism and non-Newtonian shear-thinning behavior of the lyotropic HPC solutions can all be retained into the gel state. Moreover, the rigidity of the HPC-gel provides a 69% shorter mechanochromic relaxation time back to its initial color when compared to the liquid HPC-water only system, broadening the dynamic color range of HPC by approximately 2.5× in response to a compressive pressure. Finally, the ability to formulate the HPC-gels in a scalable fashion from only water and "food-grade" constituents unlocks a wide range of potential applications, from response-tunable mechanochromic materials and colorant-free food decoration, to short-term sensors in, for example, biodegradable "smart labels" for food packaging.



cholesteric liquid crystals, edible hydrogels, hydroxypropyl cellulose, mechanochromic materials, photonic hydrogels, Cellulose, Color, Elasticity, Food Packaging, Gelatin, Hydrogels, Rheology, Water

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European Research Council (790518)
European Research Council (639088)
Swiss National Science Foundation (165176)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/K014617/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/N016920/1)
EPSRC (1803543)
European Research Council (839997)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/R511675/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/L016567/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/L027151/1)
BBSRC David Phillips fellowship [BB/K014617/1] EPSRC [EP/L016567/1, EP/N016920/1] Swiss National Science Foundation [#165176] Croucher Cambridge International Scholarship ERC [ERC‐2014‐STG H2020 639088, ERC‐2017‐POC 790518, MIGHTY 839997]