This super jelly can withstand extreme force | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: June 21, 2024

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have created a cutting edge, jelly-like material that can withstand extreme force. The strong yet squishy hydrogel was designed to be able to handle the weight of an elephant standing on it!

The team designed this hydrogel to have a high water content of 80 percent, the rest of it being made up of a network of polymers. “At 80 percent water content, you’d think it would burst apart like a water balloon, but it doesn’t: it stays intact and withstands huge compressive forces,” said Scherman, Director of the University’s Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis. “The properties of the hydrogel are seemingly at odds with each other.”

What makes this material interesting is its mechanical properties, with the polymers being held together with reversible on/off interactions. “In order to make materials with the mechanical properties we want, we use crosslinkers, where two molecules are joined through a chemical bond,” stated Dr. Zehuan Huang, the study’s first author. “We use reversible crosslinkers to make soft and stretchy hydrogels, but making a hard and compressible hydrogel is difficult and designing a material with these properties is completely counterintuitive.”

The study, published in Nature Materials, is the first time such force resistance has been subjected to such a soft material. Impressively, the jelly is converted to ultra-hard, shatterproof glass when compressed. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that glass-like hydrogels have been made. We’re not just writing something new into the textbooks, which is really exciting, but we’re opening a new chapter in the area of high-performance soft materials,” said Huang.

Due to their tough and self-healing properties, hydrogels have a wide spanning range of applications; from robotics, biomedical use, bioelectronics, and more. The next step of this research is to collaborate with experts in these other fields, hopefully yielding some cutting edge technology on this front.

Source study: Nature MaterialsHighly compressible glass-like supramolecular polymer networks

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