Flexible as jelly! Stronger than shatter-proof glass! It’s SUPER … stuff?!
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
Hydrogels are flexible building materials – and they’re super-useful! Think contact lenses, wound dressings, and even oral medication capsules! Their only drawback? Durability! Stretch a rubber band one too many times, and…snap!
Zehuan Huang and colleagues from the University of Cambridge are STRETCHING hydrogels to their limit. How?
They developed a SUPER-hydrogel! It’s composed of eighty percent water, but its other molecules steal the show. It’s got a network of polymers that alter its properties with reversible on/off interactions. When off – it’s jelly. But under pressure, the molecules link and morph to a strong, glass-like form.
Strong enough to withstand the weight of an elephant! The researchers ran over it with a car. The flattened hydrogel recovered its original shape AND flexible jelly form!
This development opens up new possibilities in robotics and medicine. Flexible robots! Cartilage replacement! And SO much more!
“Super Jelly” crushes the competition! Peanut butter optional.
Reference: Huang, Z., Chen, X., O’Neill, S.J.K. et al. Highly compressible glass-like supramolecular polymer networks. Nat. Mater. 21, 103–109 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-021-01124-x