University of California, San Diego bioengineers have developed a self-healing hydrogel that binds in seconds, like Velcro, and forms a bond strong enough to withstand repeated stretching. The material has numerous potential applications, including medical sutures, targeted drug delivery, industrial sealants, and self-healing plastics.

To design the side chain molecules of the hydrogel that would enable rapid self-healing, the engineers performed computer simulations of the hydrogel network. The simulations revealed that the ability of the hydrogel to self-heal depended critically on the length of the side chain molecules, or fingers, and that hydrogels having an optimal length of side chain molecules exhibited the strongest self-healing. When two cylindrical pieces of gels featuring the optimized fingers were placed together in an acidic solution, they stuck together instantly.

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