University of Cambridge researchers have developed a super jelly that looks and feels squishy, but acts like an ultra-hard, shatterproof glass when compressed, despite being composed of 80% water. How so? The non-water portion of the material is essentially a network of polymers held together by reversible on / off interactions that control the material’s mechanical properties, allowing it to be run over by a car. Read more for a video and additional information.
This super jelly could be used in soft robotics, bio-electronics or possibly as cartilage replacement for biomedical use. To make a hydrogel that can withstand compression, the team had to use barrel-shaped molecules called cucurbiturils, which is the crosslinking molecule that holds two guest molecules in its cavity, similar to a molecular handcuff.
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In order to make materials with the mechanical properties we want, we use crosslinkers, where two molecules are joined through a chemical bond. 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,” said Dr. Zehuan Huang from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the study’s first author.