A group of researchers from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), led by Oren Scherman, developed a novel material that presents characteristics, when appearing, incompatible. It is a flexible gel that is capable of turning into a rigid material when subjected to pressure. As it hardens, it can bear the weight of several tons, indicates the study published this Thursday in the journal Nature Materials.
The developers claim that it is a new milestone in the history of supermaterials. This slimy substance is, in fact, a very flexible hydrogel, which can be easily bent and shaped into various shapes. Nevertheless, under high pressure it compresses and becomes an ultra-hard glass. When pressure is no longer applied, matter recovers its initial properties in less than two minutes at room temperature.
Other hydrogels are soft, elastic, and brittle materials. It is very easy to destroy them with pressure, which prevents their use in applications that require durability under strong physical conditions. The invention of the Cambridge scientists is the first soft material that reacts to pressure in a resistible way.
The material it is made up of 80% water, which is supported by a network of polymers maintained by a structure that allows the new hydrogel to have different mechanical properties depending on the pressure applied. The experts managed to unite in a single substance characteristics that seem contradictory thanks to a macrocyclic molecule, baptized as cucurbituril, for its pumpkin shape (cucurbits).
The new hydrogel can be useful in various areas, such as robotics, bioelectronics, and biomedicine, for example, to replace cartilage tissue.
“People have taken years to create hydrogels with the properties of rubber, but that’s only half the story,” Scherman commented in a release. “We have reconsidered traditional polymer physics and created a new class of materials that cover the whole range of properties [de los polímeros], from rubber to glass, “said the scientist.