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Human skeletal muscles have a unique combination of properties that materials researchers seek for their own creations. They're strong, soft, full of water, and resistant to fatigue. A new study by MIT researchers has found one way to give synthetic hydrogels this total package of characteristics: putting them through a vigorous workout.
In particular, the scientists mechanically trained the hydrogels by stretching them in a water bath. And just as with skeletal muscles, the reps at the "gym" paid off. The training aligned nanofibers inside the hydrogels to produce a strong, soft, and hydrated material that resists breakdown or fatigue over thousands of repetitive movements.
Polyvinyl - Alcohol - PVA - Hydrogels - Experiment
The polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) hydrogels trained in the experiment are well-known biomaterials that researchers use for medical implants, drug coatings, and other applications, says Xuanhe Zhao, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "But one with these four important properties has not been designed or manufactured until now."
In their paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Zhao and his colleagues describe how the hydrogels also can be 3-D-printed into a variety of shapes that can be trained to develop the suite of muscle-like properties.
Future - Materials - Implants - Heart - Valves
In the future, the materials might be used in implants such as "heart valves, cartilage replacements, and spinal disks, as well as in engineering applications such as soft robots," Zhao says.
Other MIT authors on the paper include graduate student Shaoting Lin, postdoc Ji Liu, and graduate student Xunyue Liu in Zhao's lab.
Tissues - Muscles - Heart - Valves - Bioinspiration
Excellent load-bearing natural tissues such as muscles and heart valves are a bioinspiration to materials researchers, but it has been very challenging to design materials that capture all their properties simultaneously, Zhao says.
For instance, one can design a hydrogel with highly aligned fibers to give it strength, but it may not be as flexible as a...
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