How to make a hydrogel: mix a bit of clay with water and small amounts of organic compounds. The result is a transparent mass which is strong, flexible and can be moulded into any shape, however complex. In case of damage, the material can heal itself by getting back into its original shape.
Hydrogels are used to make contact lenses, diapers, sanitary napkins, tissue engineering and in breast implants. Researchers from Japan and Korea report in the January 21 issue of Nature that a new hydrogel could be the environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-dependent plastics that are currently available in the market.
The hydrogel can be prepared within three minutes by adding a small amount of G3-binder, an organic compound, to an aqueous solution of clay nanosheets which was pretreated with sodium polyacrylate.
These organic substances ensured that the clay nanosheets are dispersed homogeneously in the hydrogel. Unlike other supramolecular hydrogels, this material retained its shape even when immersed in an organic solvent. Though the water was replaced by the organic solvent, the gel maintained its form and integrity.
“Our hydrogel contradicts the preconception that materials held together by supramolecular forces and mostly composed of water are weak,” the researchers write in the journal.
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