Innovation That Matters

The new jelly can switch between flexible softness and shatter-proof hardness | Photo source University of Cambridge

A soft, flexible hydrogel strong enough to withstand an elephant’s weight


The material could be used for biomedical applications or for 'soft robotics'

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Spotted: By tweaking the molecular structure of a hydrogel, researchers at the University of Cambridge have created a super jelly that becomes shatterproof when put under extreme pressure.

Hydrogels contain significant amounts of water, which makes them flexible, stretchy, and soft. The general assumption is likely to be that they are not very strong substances. Yet through the use of cucurbiturils—special molecules that corral other molecules into an extremely strong form—the hydrogel developed by the research team can switch between flexible softness and shatterproof strength. 

The scientists tested the strength of the jelly by running it over with a car. In less than two minutes, it reverted back into its original shape. The paper that publicised the research emphasised the ‘room temperature, self-recovery’ aspect of the new material. Hydrogels without the cucurbiturils didn’t survive the same stress test.  

Biomedical applications and ‘soft robotics’, are two areas of exciting potential for the jelly. The team is already working on ways to use it for cartilage replacements in the human body, and for bioelectrical uses.  

With surprising materials, unexpected reactions, and sustainable approaches, care of the human body has advanced in incredible ways. Recent innovations spotted by Springwise include injectable bandages made from seaweed that stop bleeding and a soft, beanie-style hat that hardens upon impact to act as a helmet.  

Written by: Keely Khoury



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