Hydrogels that can be programmed to move, replicating our soft tissues
Writhing about like a jellyfish, this artificial device is made from a bendy material called hydrogel. Tiny circles of gel are ‘etched’ with patterns using ultraviolet light – a form of photolithography which creates areas that respond differently to temperature – repeated blasts of heat cause this gel to wiggle. Knowing how different patterns behave, computer models can predict how complex 3D structures will bend and move – so the tiny jellies (around 10 times smaller than real jellyfish) can be programmed to change and adapt over time. There are similarities with our living tissues, which pulse and flex in repetitive ways to move chemicals around the body. These designs may allow scientists to create replicas of our own mechanics for life-like robotics, or, as hydrogels are often biocompatible, to one day replace or repair the real thing.
Written by John Ankers
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