A team of scientists in Australia has formulated artificial flesh which has self-healing abilities. According to scientists, the new jelly-like material has the strength of actual skin, ligaments, or even bone. It also can be proved significant for the development of next-generation soft robotics and biomedical devices because of squishy material. It also contains several remarkable properties. It has been a great challenge for scientists to create a shape-changing hydrogel with multiple functions. They got inspired by jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and Venus flytraps.
Luke Connal, a chemist from the Australian National University, says,
With the special chemistry we've engineered in the hydrogel, it can repair itself after it has been broken like human skin can.
"Hydrogels are usually weak, but our material is so strong it could easily lift very heavy objects and can change its shape like human muscles do," he described.
Some of the hydrogels have self-healing properties, while others can withstand mechanical stress. Not only that, but some of them also can memorize shapes or change colors. As per the knowledge from the ANU researchers, they are the first to incorporate all these functions into one encompassing gel successfully. At least, not at the speed and efficiency they have achieved. They passed their invention through various tests and claimed they had invented the first dynamic hydrogel that is tough, durable, fatigue resistant, self-healing, and able to change shapes and also ‘remember’ them afterwards.
Moreover, scientists using this material made thin films of ‘flesh’ without any breakage. They examined these films by heating and cooling, and they changed into different shapes. They also bent one way or the other before coming back to their previous stage, maintaining the temperature.
"The advantages of using such a multi-functional hydrogel is further demonstrated through an ability to lift heavy objects in a reversible and repeatable way upon thermal stimulus," the research team writes.
The material is quite different from other hydrogels, as it takes only 10 seconds to bend where others take 10 minutes or more to change shape. Now, the main thing is the gel's dynamic hydrogen bonds and dynamic imine bonds, which work together to form "unprecedented properties."
Dynamic bonds are perfect for environmental adaptation and self-repair as they have a high response to stimuli. Particularly, imine bonds that are the carbon-nitrogen bonds react fast to kinetics that can make the self-healing process faster.
According to the authors, it can be made just by using simple chemistry. Adding other polymers to the molecular mix could provide a better chance to enable more functions. The material engineer Zhen Jiang says, "In a lot of science fiction movies, we see the most challenging jobs being done by artificial humanoid robots. Our research has made a significant step towards making this possible."
"We anticipate that researchers working on the next generation of soft robots will be interested and excited about our new way of making hydrogels," he added. However, the team is also trying to turn their hydrogel into a 3D-printable ink.