This study describes a novel microfluidic-based method for the synthesis of hydrogel microsprings that are capable of encapsulating various functional materials. A continuous flow of alginate pre-gel solution can spontaneously form a hydrogel microspring by anisotropic gelation around the bevel-tip of the capillary. This technique allows fabrication of hydrogel microsprings using only simple capillaries and syringe pumps, while their complex compartmentalization characterized by a laminar flow inside the capillary can contribute to the optimization of the microspring internal structure and functionality. Encapsulation of several functional materials including magnetic-responsive nanoparticles or cell dispersed collagen for tissue scaffold was demonstrated to functionalize the microsprings. Our core-shell hydrogel microsprings have immense potential for application in a number of fields, including biological/chemical microsensors, biocompatible soft robots/microactuators, drug release, self-assembly of 3D structures and tissue engineering.
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