Shape-shifting stretchy hydrogel is like a self-healing skin

  Last updated December 16, 2019 at 2:47 pm

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Even better than the real thing – this super-strong gel that mimics skin, ligaments and bone – and it can even heal itself.


hydrogel skin replacement stretched

The hydrogel material that can mimic skin, ligaments and bone. Credit: ANU




Why This Matters: Forget Flubber, this could be the real super gel.




Like a stretchy jelly, a new material developed by Australian scientists  mimics many of the properties of living tissue. Described as being very strong, self-healing and able to change shape, the new hydrogel could be used as a substitute for skin, ligaments and bone.


hydrogel_technology_wearable technology

The super-strong hydrogel can easily lift heavy objects. Credit: ANU Twitter.


The inventors, from the Australian National University (ANU), say the hydrogel could also form artificial muscles for next-generation robots that could one day swim.


The gel has been described in the journal Advanced Materials.


Hydrogels are gels with a high-water content and used in a range of products, including contact lenses.


New features due to dynamic chemical bonds


Luke Connal, who oversaw the research, says the new hydrogel’s dynamic chemical bonds gave it features unlike any other materials previously reported.


“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.


“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.”




Also: The 10 biggest challenges facing robotics




hydrogel skin Luke Connal

Researchers Zhen Jiang and Luke Connal. Credit: ANU


Zhen Jiang, who was part of the team developing the gel, said a form of temperature control could change the shape of the hydrogel, 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,” says Jiang.


Jiang had the inspiration for the new hydrogel from one of his PhD 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.”


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


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