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210 (Nov 2012)

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Scientists from the University of California, San Diego have developed a self-healing hydrogel that binds together in seconds, copying the Velcro process at a molecular level. The new material could soon find use in medical sutures, targeted drug delivery, industrial sealants and self-healing plastics. The fundamental characteristic of the jello-like polymer hydrogel is its “dangling side chain” molecules, that reach out toward one another like long, spindly fingers. When developing the gel, the research team ran computer simulations, in order to determine the optimal length for these molecules. The resulting substance is capable of healing cuts made to itself – or of bonding with another piece of hydrogel – almost instantly. The behavior of this new material can be controlled by adjusting the pH of its environment. In laboratory tests, two pieces of the gel bonded together when placed in an acidic (low pH) solution. When the pH of that solution was raised, though, they easily separated. The process was repeated several times, without losses in the strength of the “weld” point when the pieces were joined. A glue for our near future.

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