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Polymer gel, heal thyself: University of Pittsburgh engineering team proposes new composites that can regenerate when damaged
Date:11/26/2013

biological processes behind tissue regeneration in amphibians, we considered how we would replicate that dynamic cascade within a synthetic material," Dr. Balazs said. "We needed to develop a system that first would sense the removal of material and initiate regrowth, then propagate that growth until the material reached the desired size and then, self-terminate the process."

"Our biggest challenge was to address the transport issue within a synthetic material," Dr. Balazs said. "Biological organisms have circulatory systems to achieve mass transport of materials like blood cells, nutrients and genetic material. Synthetic materials don't inherently possess such a system, so we needed something that acted like a sensor to initiate and control the process."

The team developed a hybrid material of nanorods embedded in a polymer gel, which is surrounded by a solution containing monomers and cross-linkers (molecules that link one polymer chain to another) in order to replicate the dynamic cascade. When part of the gel is severed, the nanorods near the cut act as sensors and migrate to the new interface. The functionalized chains or "skirts" on one end of these nanorods keeps them localized at the interface and the sites (or "initiators") along the rod's surface trigger a polymerization reaction with the monomer and cross-linkers in the outer solution. Drs. Yong and Kuksenok developed the computational models, and thereby established guidelines to control the process so that the new gel behaves and appears like the gel it replaced, and to terminate the reaction so that the material would not grow out of control.

Drs. Balazs, Kuksenok and Yong also credit Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, who contributed toward the understanding of the chemistry behind the polymerization process. "Our collaboration with Prof. Matyjaszewski was exceptionally valuable in allowing us to accurately account for all the complex chemical reactions involved in the regeneration proce
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Contact: John Fedele
jfedele@pitt.edu
412-624-4148
University of Pittsburgh
Source:Eurekalert  

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