Tuesday, 10 December 2019 09:49

ANU team develops new self-healing hydrogel

By
Dr Zhen Jiang and Associate Professor Luke Connal. Dr Zhen Jiang and Associate Professor Luke Connal. Australian National University

Scientists from the Australian National University claim to have invented a new hyrdogel that operates like skin, ligaments and bone, and is very strong, self-healing and able to morph into different shapes.

A statement from the team said their discovery could lead to a class of medical implants or artificial muscles for next-generation robots that were able to swim. Their research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Hydrogels contain a high content of water and are used in products like contact lenses.

Lead senior researcher Associate Professor Luke Connal from the ANU Research School of Chemistry said the dynamic chemical bonds in the new gel gave it unique features.

“With the special chemistry we’ve engineered in the hydrogel, it can repair itself after it has been broken like human skin can,” he said.

“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.

new skin strong

The new jelly material is very strong and can heal itself like skin. Supplied

“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.”

Dr Zhen Jiang, a co-researcher and post-doctoral fellow, said the shape of the hydrogel could be changed by a form of temperature control, allowing it to perform as 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.

Dr Jiang got the idea for the new hydrogel from one of his doctoral projects.

“We anticipate that researchers working on the next-generation of soft robots will be interested and excited about our new way of making hydrogels,” he said.

The team can make the hydrogel with simple and scalable chemistry and plan to develop a 3D printable ink based on it.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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