A team of scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) has created a strong hydrogel that operates much like our own skin, ligaments, and bone. Incredibly, it can heal itself and change shape.
This invention has the potential to create a new style of medical implants or artificial muscles.
Their findings were published in Advanced Materials in October.
What makes this hydrogel different?
Hydrogels are gels with high water content and are used in a number of different products, for instance, contact lenses and prosthetic limbs.
This hydrogel, though, has dynamic chemical bonds that set it apart from any reported hydrogel to date, according to lead senior researcher of the study, Luke Connal from the ANU.
Connal said, "With the special chemistry we've engineered in the hydrogel, it can repair itself after it has been broken like human skin can."
"Hydrogels are usually weak, but our material is so strong it could easily lift very heavy objects and can change its shape like human muscles do. This makes our hydrogel suitable for artificial muscles in what we call soft robotics," he continued.
"Our hydrogel's ability to self-heal, as well as its flexibility and strength, make it an ideal material for wearable technology and various other biomedical devices."
A rather impressive hydrogel.
How did the team come up with their hydrogel?
Dr. Zhen Jiang, co-researcher of the study and Postdoctoral Fellow at the ANU said the inspiration for the hydrogel came from his Ph.D. project.
Jiang explained that a method of controlling temperature directs how the hydrogel is shaped, enabling it to move much like an artificial muscle.
"In a lot of science fiction movies, we see the most challenging jobs being done by artificial humanoid robots. Our research has made a significant step towards making this possible," he said.
Jiang continued, "We anticipate that researchers working on the next generation of soft robots will be interested and excited about our new way of making hydrogels."