According to a new study from North Carolina State University, 3D printable gels with enhanced and highly controlled properties can be created by fusing micro and nanoscale arrays of the same materials mined from algae. The findings could have applications in biomedical materials – think biological scaffolds for cell growth – and soft robotics.
Described in the newspaper Nature communications, the results show that these water-based gels – called homocomposite hydrogels – are both strong and flexible. They are made up of alginates – chemical compounds found in algae and seaweed that are commonly used as thickening agents and in dressings.
Merging arrays at different scales of the same alginate eliminates the brittleness that can sometimes occur when different materials are fused together in a hydrogel, says Orlin Velev, S. Frank and Doris Culberson, Emeritus Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State and corresponding. author of the article.
“Water-based materials can be soft and brittle,” he said. “But these homocomposite materials – soft fibrillar alginate particles inside an alginate medium – are actually two hydrogels in one: one is a particulate hydrogel and the other is a molecular hydrogel. together, they produce a gelatinous material that is better than the sum of its parts, and whose properties can be fine-tuned for shaping via a 3D printer for on-demand manufacture. “
“We are reinforcing a hydrogel material with the same material, which is remarkable because it uses a single material to improve overall mechanical properties,” said Lilian Hsiao, assistant professor of chemical and molecular engineering at NC State and co-author of the paper. “Alginates are used in dressings, so this material could be used as a reinforced 3D printed bandage or as a patch for wound healing or drug delivery.”
“These types of materials have the potential to be most useful in medical products, in food products as a thickening agent, or in gentle robotics,” said Austin Williams, one of the first co-authors. of the article and a graduate student from Velev’s lab.
Future work will attempt to refine this method of fusing homocomposite materials to advance 3D printing for biomedical applications or biomedical injection materials, Velev said.
“This technique may have uses with other types of gels, such as those used in coatings or in consumer products,” Hsiao said.
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Material provided by North Carolina State University. Original written by Mick Kulikowski. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.