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.
“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.
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.