Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Saudi Arabia have developed an electrically conductive hydrogel that can flex, stretch, and self-heal when cut and reattached. The versatile material has potential in a variety of applications including wound healing patches, wearable electronics, and touch-sensitive robotics.
The research team developed the new material by combining a water-infused hydrogel with a metal-carbide compound called MXene. The gel can stretch by up to 3400% before returning to its original size, can reattach itself after being cut into pieces, and can adhere to skin. However, the key attribute of the new material is that it can act as a highly sensitive strain sensor.
“The material’s differing sensitivity to stretching and compression is a breakthrough discovery that adds a new dimension to the sensing capability of hydrogels,” said Yizhou Zhang, a researcher involved in the study.
The gel can sense subtle changes in human skin and convert these to electrical signals. For example, a thin slice of the gel attached to a volunteer’s forehead can sense changes in facial expression. The researchers hope that this could allow severely paralyzed people to communicate and control electronic equipment, such as a wheelchair or prosthetic limb.
By attaching the material to the throat of volunteers, the research team was able to record their speech as electrical signals, suggesting that the gel could be useful in speech enhancement technology for those with speech difficulties.
Another potential application involves using the gel as a flexible wound covering or an internal dressing for organs in the body. As the gel is responsive, it could monitor the shape and volume of the tissue it covers, and potentially release drugs in response to tissue specific cues, providing a smart drug delivery device.
Her’es a video about the new material:
Study in Science Advances: MXenes stretch hydrogel sensor performance to new limits…