The newly developed fiber-reinforced hydrogel. Credit: Copyrighted image; Hokkaido University

Planning to build a home or designing an unbreakable gift? The present-day scientists would suggest this new material rather than steel or glass fiber. The field of ‘Material Sciences’ is striving to blend the nature and technology.

Scientists from Hokkaido University, led by Professor Jian Ping Gong, have created a new reinforced material using hydrogels. The study conducted as a part of the Cabinet Office’s Impulsing Paradigm Change through Disruptive Technologies Program (ImPACT) proved worthy with this new invention.

The new material is a combination of two different materials. The team combined hydrogels containing high levels of water with glass fibre fabric to create this material. This is bendable yet tough. The team employed the same method used to produce reinforced plastics.

The researchers used polyampholyte gels and fabric made from single glass fibre of about 10µm in diameter. Immersing the glass fabric in a polyampholyte precursor solution, strengthens it further.

Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) images of the fiber-reinforced hydrogels. Credit: Advanced Functional Materials.

The new fibre-reinforced hydrogels are 25 times tougher than glass fibre fabric and 100 times tougher than hydrogels. The team concluded that the toughness is due to the dynamic ionic bonds between the fibre and hygrogels.

According to Dr. Gong Jian Ping, lead author of the paper published in Advanced Functional Materials, this material is eco-friendly. “The fiber-reinforced hydrogels, with a 40 percent water level, are environmentally friendly,” he said. He also added, “The material has multiple potential applications because of its reliability, durability and flexibility.”

In general, the hydrogels are biocompatible materials. They find their use in soft robotics. However, the hydrogels are not tough as expected. Consequently, the newly developed hydrogels are 5 times tougher compared to carbon steel. One can use this new material as artificial ligaments and tendons. Researchers say that they are trying to apply the principles to create the toughness for other soft components, such as rubber.