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Scientists from Japan's Hokkaido University have created tough hydrogels combined with woven fiber fabric. The "fiber-reinforced soft composite" fabrics are highly flexible, stronger than metals, and can support a number of potential applications, including artificial ligaments and tendons subjected to load-bearing tension.

The bendable material consists of polyampholyte (PA) gels and glass fiber fabric. The Hokkaido team theorizes that the hydrogel's durability is increased by dynamic ionic bonds between the fiber and hydrogels, and within the hydrogels.

The glass fiber fabric features a single fiber measuring around 10μm in diameter. To create the hydrogel, the engineers immersed the fabric in PA precursor solutions for polymerization.

According to the researchers, the fiber-reinforced hydrogels, when used alone, are 25 times tougher than glass fiber fabric, and 100 times tougher than hydrogels – in terms of the energy required to destroy them. The environmentally friendly hydrogels, they say, are 5 times tougher compared to carbon steel.

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