Hydrogel hybrid that doesn’t dry out

Engineers at MIT have found a way to prevent hydrogels from dehydrating, with a technique that could lead to longer-lasting contact lenses, stretchy microfluidic devices, flexible bioelectronics, and even artificial skin.

The engineers, led by Xuanhe Zhao, Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, devised a method to robustly bind hydrogels to elastomers. They found that coating hydrogels with a thin elastomer layer provided a water-trapping barrier that kept the hydrogel moist, flexible, and robust.

Prof Zhao said the group took inspiration for its design from human skin, which is composed of an outer epidermis layer bonded to an underlying dermis layer. The epidermis acts as a shield, protecting the dermis and its network of nerves and capillaries, as well as the rest of the body’s muscles and organs, from drying out.

The researchers also report inventing a technique to pattern tiny channels into the hybrid material, similar to blood vessels. They claim to have embedded complex ionic circuits in the material to mimic nerve networks.

“We hope this work will pave the way to synthetic skin, or even robots with very soft, flexible skin with biological functions,” Prof Zhao said.

Next, the group hopes to further test the hybrid material’s potential in a number of applications, including wearable electronics and on-demand drug-delivering bandages, as well as non-drying, circuit-embedded contact lenses.

Author
Tom Austin-Morgan

This material is protected by MA Business copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.

 

Supporting Information
Do you have any comments about this article?
Name
 
Email
 
Comments
 

Your comments/feedback may be edited prior to publishing. Not all entries will be published.
Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

© MA Business Ltd (a Mark Allen Group Company) 2019