Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a way to prevent hydrogels from dehydrating. The water-based technique could lead to longer-lasting contact lenses, stretchy microfluidic devices, flexible bioelectronics, and even artificial skin.

Taking design inspiration from human skin, the engineers, led by Xuanhe Zhao, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, devised a method to robustly bind hydrogels to elastomers — elastic polymers such as rubber and silicone that are stretchy like hydrogels yet impervious to water.

Coating the hydrogels with a thin elastomer layer provided a water-trapping barrier that kept the hydrogel moist, flexible, and robust.

“We hope this work will pave the way to synthetic skin, or even robots with very soft, flexible skin with biological functions,” Zhao says.

In the future, the hybrid-elastomer material may also be used as a stretchy microfluidic bandage to deliver drugs directly through the skin.


Also: Learn about NASA's Magnetic Responsive Hydrogel Material Delivery System.