SCIENCE NEWS: Super jelly can withstand being hit by a car

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SCIENCE NEWS:

Credit: Zehuan Huang

Researchers have developed a jelly-like material that can withstand the equivalent of an elephant standing on it, and completely recover to its original shape, even though it’s 80% water.

The soft-yet-strong material, developed by a team at the University of Cambridge, looks and feels like a squishy jelly, but acts like an ultra-hard, shatterproof glass when compressed, despite its high water content.

The non-water portion of the material is a network of polymers held together by reversible on/off interactions that control the material’s mechanical properties. This is the first time that such significant resistance to compression has been incorporated into a soft material.

The’super jelly could be used in a variety of applications including bioelectronics and even replacement cartilage for biomedical purposes. The results are reported in the journal Nature Materials.

The molecular structure of materials determines how they behave. The molecular structure of materials is what determines how they behave. Hydrogels, which look like rubber, have many interesting properties. However, it’s difficult to make hydrogels that can withstand compression without being crushed.

“In order to make materials with the mechanical properties we want, we use crosslinkers, where two molecules are joined through a chemical bond,” said Dr. Zehuan Huang from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the study’s first author. We use reversible Crosslinkers to make soft, stretchy hydrogels. However, it is very difficult to design a material with these properties. “

The research was conducted in the laboratory of Professor Oren Scheerman. The team used cucurbiturils, which are barrel-shaped molecules, to create a hydrogel that is able to withstand compression. The crosslinking molecule cucurbituril holds two guest molecules within its cavity. It is like a molecular handcuff. Researchers created guest molecules that will stay in the cavity longer than normal. This keeps the polymer network tight and allows it to resist compression.

“At 80% 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 hydrogel’s properties seem to be at odds with one another. “

” The hydrogel’s ability to withstand compression is amazing. It was unlike anything else we’ve seen,” Dr. Jade McCune from the Department of Chemistry, said. “We also discovered that compressive strength can be easily controlled by changing the chemical structure the guest molecule in the handcuff. “

To make the glass-like hydrogels the team selected specific guest molecules. The team modified the molecular structure guest molecules in the handcuff to alter the dynamics. This resulted in a significant slowdown in the material’s mechanical performance, which ranged from rubber-like to glasslike.

Credit: Zehuan Huang

“People spent many years creating rubber-like hydrogels. But that’s only half the story,” Scherman said. “We have reexamined the traditional polymer physics to create a new class material that covers the entire spectrum of material properties, from rubber-like to glasses-like. “

The researchers used the material to make a hydrogel pressure sensor for real-time monitoring of human motions, including standing, walking and jumping.

” This is the first time glass-like hydrogels are being made. Huang stated that they are not only adding something to the textbooks, which is exciting, but also opening a new chapter within the field of high-performance soft material.”

Researchers from the Scherman lab are currently working to further develop these glass-like materials towards biomedical and bioelectronic applications in collaboration with experts from engineering and materials science. This research was partially funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and a Marie Sklodowska–Curie Fellowship.

More information:
Zehuan Huang et al, Highly compressible glass-like supramolecular polymer networks, Nature Materials (2021). DOI: 10. 1038/s41563-021-01124-x

Citation:
‘Super jelly’ can survive being run over by a car (2021, November 25)
retrieved 25 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-super-jelly-survive-car.html

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