Researchers at Rutgers University have developed a 3D-printed hydrogel that can move in response to an electrical signal. The material has potential in soft robotics, and could be used as an artificial muscle in prostheses or implants, or even for drug delivery applications.
Soft robotics is a thriving area of research, and soft robots have significant potential as medical devices. In this recent contribution to the field, the researchers have developed an electroactive hydrogel that can “walk” underwater and grab objects. However, the material also has potential as an artificial muscle, such as an artificial cardiac or gastrointestinal muscle.
“Our 3D-printed smart gel has great potential in biomedical engineering because it resembles tissues in the human body that also contain lots of water and are very soft,” said Howon Lee, a researcher involved in the study.
The researchers create the gel by 3D printing a light-sensitive solution and then illuminating it so that it forms a semi-solid flexible gel. The material is also electroactive, so it responds to an electrical charge by moving, and the speed of movement can be controlled by changing the dimensions of the gel structure, as thinner structures tend to move faster. The research team can create a variety of interesting shapes using 3D printing, so the technique is very versatile.
By placing the gels in a salty solution and passing an electrical charge through it, the researchers were able to produce a variety of gel movements, including a “walking” motion and a grabbing action. “The gel resembles muscles that contract because it’s made of soft material, has more than 70 percent water and responds to electrical stimulation,” said Lee.
The study is a first step towards versatile artificial muscles, and the technique may be useful in implants and prostheses in the future. “This study demonstrates how our 3D-printing technique can expand the design, size and versatility of this smart gel,” said Lee. “Our microscale 3D-printing technique allowed us to create unprecedented motions.”
See the gels in action in the following video:
Study in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces: Soft Robotic Manipulation and Locomotion with a 3D Printed Electroactive Hydrogel…
Via: Rutgers University…