Bob Michaels

April 6, 2012

1 Min Read
Oscillating Gel Could Lead to Development of Artificial Skin

A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge) have demonstrated that a nonoscillating gel can be resuscitated in a fashion similar to medical cardiopulmonary resuscitation. These findings pave the way for the development of new applications that sense mechanical stimuli and respond chemically--a natural phenomenon few materials have been able to mimic.

The material in question is known as Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gel, a material that was first fabricated in the late 1990s and shown to pulsate in the absence of any external stimuli. Resting in a petri dish, the gel can even resemble a beating heart under certain conditions.

Anna Balazs, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, predicted that nonoscillating BZ could be excited using mechanical pressure. This prediction was confirmed by MIT researchers, who proved that chemical oscillations can be triggered by mechanically compressing the BZ gel beyond a critical stress. A video of this phenomenon appears below.

"Think of it like human skin, which can provide signals to the brain that something on the body is deformed or hurt," says Balazs. "This gel has numerous far-reaching applications, such as artificial skin that could be sensory--a holy grail in robotics."

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