Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for creating devices out of a water-based hydrogel material that can be patterned, folded, and used to manipulate objects. The technique holds promise for use in “soft robotics” and biomedical applications.


"This work brings us one step closer to developing new soft robotics technologies that mimic biological systems and can work in aqueous environments,” says Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

The researchers found a way to modify and pattern sections of hydrogel electrically by using a copper electrode to inject positively charged copper ions into the material. The ions bond with negatively charged sites on the polymer network in the hydrogel, essentially linking the polymer molecules to each other and making the material stiffer and more resilient. The researchers can target specific areas with the electrodes to create a framework of stiffened material within the hydrogel.

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