3D Printed Shape Changing Smart Gel

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This 3D printed smart gel can help in underwater detection without disturbing aquatic life and make artificial organs for soft robots.

Imagine a 3D printed smart gel that can walk underwater and grab objects to move them from one point to the other, underwater. That is exactly what a group of researchers from Rutgers University have come up with. The gel can also change its shape under the influence of electricity. This watery gel can create soft robots that mimic sea creatures like octopus and can move underwater without disturbing aquatic life. It can be used for underwater detection as well as for making artificial organs for soft robots.

Making of 3D smart gel

To make this gel, researchers took a light-sensitive solution. During the 3D printing process, they projected light on it which converted this solution into a gel. The hydrogel was then placed in a salty water solution (or electrolyte) and two thin wires were used to apply electricity and trigger motion. Electricity can be used to generate motion like walking forward, reversing course, grabbing and moving objects. The octopus-like hydrogel created by the team is about an inch tall.

To control the speed of the smart gel, its dimensions have been altered. The thin gel is faster than thick gel and it bends or changes its own shape depending upon the strength of the salty water and electric field. Researchers explained that the gel resembles human muscles that contract as it is made up of soft material. Also, it has more than 70 percent of water and responds to electrical stimulation.

Applications of smart gel

The smart gel can create the soft robot for underwater detection, artificial heart, stomach and other muscles with devices for diagnosing diseases. It can also be used for detecting and delivering drugs and performing underwater inspections. As these soft materials like the smart gel are flexible and often cheaper to manufacture than hard materials, they have greater potential in biomedical engineering.

Devices made of soft materials are simple to design and control compared to the mechanically more complex hard devices. They have the potential to bring revolution in the electronics industry, especially, in robotics.

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