Shape-shifting gels that move help Pitt researchers take fiction out of science
Shape-shifting gels that run away from light might sound like science fiction, but University of Pittsburgh researchers say computer models suggest fiction is morphing into fact.
Anna Balazs, a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, and Olga Kuksenok, an engineering research professor at Pitt, said they looked to nature for inspiration when working with hydrogels — compounds widely used in contact lenses, membranes, glue and medical testing devices that rely on fluid technologies.
They wanted to find out whether a man-made product could mirror behavior seen in the mimic octopus, a shape-shifting ocean creature that can imitate the shape, color and texture of at least 15 creatures ranging from the lionfish to sea floor algae.
Such actions long have been a holy grail for researchers.
“Overall we are very interested in designing materials that mimic biology,” Balazs said.
Josianne Romasco, aquarist keeper at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, isn't surprised that researchers looked to an octopus for inspiration. Although the zoo doesn't house a mimic octopus, it has octopi with varying abilities.
“Roboticists have come here to study them. And with their ability to change color and camouflage themselves, they're just very interesting creatures,” Romasco said.
Creating manufactured materials that could mimic such a response to external stimuli could have wide-ranging implications for everything from soft robotics to medical testing devices, Balazs said.
For the octopus, the ability to mimic its surroundings is a matter of surviving threats from predators and thriving in a sometimes hostile sea. For manufactured products, Balazs said it could mean repurposing materials and reducing production costs.
She and Kuksenok collaborated on a two-year study of hydrogels and recently published the results in the journal, Advanced Functional Materials.
Their study tapped physics, chemistry, biology and computational science, using computer models to examine the behavior of a hydrogel first made in 2007.
“The gels we were looking at were in the micron to millimeter scale,” Balazs said. “When you move the light over them from left to right, and take several swipes over them, they shrink and move in the direction opposite the light.”
The finding, she said, suggests new ways of shaping and molding gels.
Kuksenok and Balazs also found that by using different lights, they could reconfigure gels for another use. That quality could reduce manufacturing costs, Balazs said.
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh’s Downtown tops ranking of small to midsized cities
- Inmate care in Allegheny County Jail generates worries
- Interstate smash-and-grab jewelry ring may be operating in Pittsburgh area, Altoona
- Marshals find suspect in fatal Mercer County shooting in Pittsburgh
- Long-term closures at Carnegie interchange on Parkway West to begin
- Icy streets leave some in Pittsburgh neighborhoods critical of city
- Just for Giggles, FBI tags along, finds more than sports paraphernalia at Pittsburgh store
- Police say teen driver was drinking in Butler ATV crash that killed passenger
- Federal judge allows challenge to Sharpsburg’s landlord law
- Free speech wall rises at Carlow University
- Teacher conduct under spotlight in Pennsylvania