Researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick have created a 3D printed smart gel. This smart gel walks underwater and can grab objects as well as move them. This unique gel is poised to offer numerous benefits in fields ranging from soft robotics and biomedical engineering. For example, the hydrogel could be used to create soft robots and can be used to perform underwater inspections.
The gel is flexible, cheaper to manufacture and can be easily miniaturized. The devices made from the gel can be easily manufactured and designed and controlled as compared with more complex hard devices. The gel is also being considered ideal to create artificial heart, stomach and other muscles in addition to devices for diagnosing diseases, detecting and delivering drugs.
Explaining the benefits of the gel in field such as biomedical engineering, Howan Lee, Assistant Professor in Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering of the University said, “Our 3D-printed smart gel has great potential in biomedical engineering because it resembles tissues in the human body that also contain lots of water and are very soft,”
“It can be used for many different types of underwater devices that mimic aquatic life like the octopus,” added Lee.
Lee who is also the senior author of the study that explains the creation of the hydrogel, explained further. “The hydrogels can move and change shape when activated by electricity. During the 3D-printing process, light is projected on a light-sensitive solution that becomes a gel. The hydrogel is placed in a salty water solution (or electrolyte) and two thin wires apply electricity to trigger motion: walking forward, reversing course and grabbing and moving objects. The human-like walker that the team created is about one inch tall”, Lee further explained.
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“The speed of the smart gel’s movement is controlled by changing its dimensions (thin is faster than thick), and the gel bends or changes shape depending on the strength of the salty water solution and electric field. The gel resembles muscles that contract because it’s made of soft material, has more than 70 percent water and responds to electrical stimulation”, Lee added.
In the study which was published in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces, researchers demonstrate how 3D-printing technique can expand the design, size and versatility of this smart gel. It also provides details of how the researchers’ microscale 3D printing technique allowed them to create unprecedented motions.
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