Scientists Create New Muscle-Like Material for Medicine and Soft Robotics

We have numerous science-fiction movies with extraterrestrials or superheroes get miraculously healed after getting hurt, even if they looked as good as dead when they went down, and the plot would offer fantastic explanations of such magical regeneration. Now, ANU (The Australian National University) scientists came up with a material that, with its jelly-like nature, is tough, can imitate tissue and bone, heals itself, and possesses flexibility and fluidity that allow it to change its form

The team hopes that in the near future their new material will be used for implants in medicine, or to make artificial muscles in soft robotics. The material is a hydrogel, or a water-rich gel. Its varieties are used in products everyone is familiar with – for example, contact lenses. 

What makes this hydrogel different? 

Luke Connal, lead senior researcher and Associate Professor at the ANU Research School of Chemistry, says: 'With the special chemistry we've engineered in the hydrogel, it can repair itself after it has been broken like human skin can.'

While hydrogels have a weak structure, their material, he explains, can lift weighty objects with ease, as well as bend and stretch like our muscles do. Add here the material's self-healing feature, and you're all set for making amazing cutting edge biomedical stuff.

His colleague post-doctoral fellow Dr. Zhen Jiang, added that the hydrogel can work similarly to a muscle, changing its shape due to temperature control.

In movies, Dr. Jiang recalls, 'we see the most challenging jobs being done by artificial humanoid robots. Our research has made a significant step towards making this possible.' 

Actually, he got the idea from a PhD project he was doing. He hopes to get scientists and developers involved in soft robotics to get vastly interested in their option. 

Among all things, this new hydrogel will soon be made 3-D printable.

They seem quite determined, so we can safely look forward to seeing science fiction turning to science in this aspect. 

Photo credit: ANU

Helen Borodina