Home > World of the Strange – Weird Science > Tough gel stretches to 21 times its length, recoils, and heals itself.

Tough gel stretches to 21 times its length, recoils, and heals itself.

Posted September 10th 2012.

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The researchers used a razor blade to cut a 2-cm notch across the gel. In the image above (left), the gel has been stretched very slightly so that the notch is visible. This damaged gel was still able to stretch to 17 times its initial length without breaking. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jeong-Yun Sun.

A team of experts in mechanics, materials science, and tissue engineering at Harvard have created an extremely stretchy and tough gel that may pave the way to replacing damaged cartilage in human joints.

Called a hydrogel, because its main ingredient is water, the new material is a hybrid of two weak gels that combine to create something much stronger. Not only can this new gel stretch to 21 times its original length, but it is also exceptionally tough, self-healing, and bio compatible-a valuable collection of attributes that opens up new opportunities in medicine and tissue engineering.

The material, its properties, and a simple method of synthesis are described in the September 6 issue of Nature.

“Conventional hydrogels are very weak and brittle-imagine a spoon breaking through jelly,” explains lead author Jeong-Yun Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

“But because they are water-based and biocompatible, people would like to use them for some very challenging applications like artificial cartilage or spinal disks. For a gel to work in those settings, it has to be able to stretch and expand under compression and tension without breaking.”

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