Researchers have turned to the wise jellyfish for inspiration on how to make a new material, but not just any material; a transparent, self-healing material. So jellyfish have been around for a little while now, believed to be in the region of 500 to 700 million years so they know a thing or two.
Scientists from the National University of Singapore are looking to create a transparent, stretchable, touch sensitive and self-healing material that can be used in aquatic environments. And they’ve been looking at plenty of alternatives around but none tick all of the boxes. Many of the self-healing materials available are not transparent and they don’t work well in water so they did what all good scientists do and they turned to nature for inspiration, and what’s squidgy, see-through and works well when wet? Jellyfish!
The newest thing in technology is flexible screens and tech that isn’t rigid so they’re looking for this material to be used on water-resistant touchscreens, aquatic 'soft robots' and anything else their think tanks can come up with. Soon we may have submersible ROVs like James Cameron’s Abyss. They have managed to create something that mimics the water-resistant nature of jellyfish skin while still being touch sensitive and see-through.
They have so far created a gel comprising a fluorocarbon-based polymer with a fluorine-rich ionic liquid. When combined, the polymer network interacts with the ionic liquid via highly reversible ion-dipole interactions, which allows it to self-heal. Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee explains: “Most conductive polymer gels such as hydrogels would swell when submerged in water or dry out over time in air. What makes our material different is that it can retain its shape in both wet and dry surroundings. It works well in sea water and even in acidic or alkaline environments.”
Now, this sounds like science fiction but we’re almost there. These guys are working with flexible materials that can sense touch and measure things like pressure and stretching forces applied to it for a more natural interaction, and because its self-healing it will go a long way to actually reduce plastic production because if your phone or tablet is made with this and you drop it you don’t throw it away it just heals itself…