Moldable Rubik's Cube Made by Scientists Could Lead to Useful Data Storage

By creating new ways of storing information, this hydrogel Rubik's Cube could help patients monitor their health.

A team of chemists from China and the U.S. have teamed up and created a 3 x 3 x 3 mushy Rubik's Cube

The difference between this one and the regular Rubik's Cube is that it's not solid, it's made up of colored hydrogel blocks. 

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More than just a fun toy, this softer cube could be a new way of storing and detecting information, and even go so far as to monitor the medical conditions of patients.

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The findings of this creation were published on August 7th, 2019, in the journal Advanced Materials.

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How does this Rubik's Cube work?

This Rubik's Cube is made up of self-healing hydrogel, which is a squishy polymer material that absorbs large amounts of liquid and creates new chemical bonds when the old ones break. 

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The reason behind its creation is that the team of scientists were looking for novel ways of encoding information into physical objects. 

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Professor of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, and co-author of the study, Jonathan Sessler, said "We're exploring ways to encode information in patterns of color and three dimensions, theoretically leading to a much higher information density."

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In terms of information density, as the cube can configure approximately 43 quintillion unique combinations, that's a lot of different ways to store data.

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"Over a short time, you can manipulate the interactions between the little blocks," said Sessler, "It's sticky, but they aren't getting stuck. Then over a longer time, say 24 hours, the structure locks into place."

Moldable Rubik's Cube Made by Scientists Could Lead to Useful Data Storage
Rubik's Cube. Source: Christine Sinatra/The University of Texas at Austin

When this happens, the self-healing hydrogel parts are torn apart, and then reattached in a different way, with new chemical bonds holding it in place. The team had to work hard to create bonds that were weak enough to be moved around, yet strong enough to remain intact, and in shape. 

The team's next steps are to see how to store data in these moveable and moldable parts. 

This would then open doors for further medical usage. 

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