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New “super gel” is liquid when cold and stiffens when heated


January 23, 2013

The super gel's "nano ropes," linked together to form a net-like structure (Photo: Radboud University Nijmegen)

The super gel's "nano ropes," linked together to form a net-like structure (Photo: Radboud University Nijmegen)

Gelatins take on a semi-solid state when cool, and become a liquid when heated, right? Well, not always. Chemists from Radboud University Nijmegen, in The Netherlands, have created a “super gel” that behaves in the opposite manner – it’s liquid when cool, and stiffens when heated. What’s more, it reportedly absorbs water 100 times better than other gels. To make it, the researchers copied the protein structure of human cells.

A team led by Prof. Alan Rowan and Dr. Paul Kouwer made the gel using a synthetic polymer known as polyisocyanide. Its molecules twist together to form strong, stiff networks of what are referred to as “nano ropes.” Each cell in our bodies contains thousands of protein structures that are structurally very similar to these ropes.

“Not only is the structure of our material strikingly similar to the cell proteins, but the strength and sensitivity of the two materials are practically identical, even if you suddenly pull them hard,” said Kouwer.

The gel’s molecular structure is what’s responsible for its seemingly reversed temperature responses, and for its ability to suck up water. “A bucket” of water can be transformed into a gelatinous state, by adding less than a gram of the material. Additionally, the temperature at which the gel changes states can be manipulated – depending on what’s required, that can range from room temperature to body temperature.

Various uses for the gel are being considered, such as cosmetic applications, filtration for nanomaterials, and a medium for cell growth. It may also find use as a bacteria-blocking wound dressing that remains in place while at body temperature, but that turns to liquid when cooled, for easy removal.

A paper on the research was published today in the journal Nature.

Source: Radboud University Nijmegen

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Does this material smell very bad ? (since most of the isocyanides have offensive odours ) Refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isocyanide#Odour_of_isocyanides

Siddharth Bhatla

if it could be produced very cheaply, I wonder how such a material would work as a road clearing product? Put it on the roads and when it gets cold, (as in SNOW and ICE) it turns to a liquid that runs off the roadway..???? Just a thought...

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