Widusha Illeperuma | Harvard Horizons Symposium | Summary and Q&A

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June 1, 2015
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Harvard University
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Widusha Illeperuma | Harvard Horizons Symposium

TL;DR

Researchers have developed a strong and tough hydrogel that can be used for various applications, such as fire protection and biomedical purposes.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What distinguishes hydrogels from other engineering materials?

Hydrogels are similar to natural biological materials as they are made mostly of water and a polymer network. This composition makes them soft and flexible, unlike hard materials used in engineering structures.

Q: Why have hydrogels not been widely used in engineering applications?

Most hydrogels, including jello, are fragile and cannot withstand heavy loads. Their low strength and toughness have limited their use in engineering applications, as they can easily break under stress.

Q: How did the researchers develop a strong and tough hydrogel?

The researchers combined two fragile hydrogels to create a hybrid hydrogel with improved mechanical properties. This tough hydrogel is easy to make, inexpensive, and capable of being made into thin sheets and large pieces.

Q: What are the potential applications of the developed tough hydrogel?

The tough hydrogel has potential applications in fire protection, as it can absorb heat and extinguish flames. It can be made into blankets or jackets to provide better protection. Additionally, it can be used for biomedical purposes, such as cartilage replacement and artificial muscles.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Engineering structures are typically made with hard materials, while biological materials found in nature are mostly soft hydrogels.

  • Hydrogels have been used in various applications, but their fragility has limited their use in engineering.

  • Researchers have developed a tough hydrogel that is stronger, tougher, and easy to make, with potential applications in fire protection, cartilage replacement, and artificial muscles.

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