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New technique predictably generates complex, wavy shapes
Date:5/3/2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. The flexible properties of hydrogels highly absorbent, gelatinous polymers that shrink and expand depending on environmental conditions such as humidity, pH and temperature have made them ideal for applications from contact lenses to baby diapers and adhesives.

In recent years, researchers have investigated hydrogels' potential in drug delivery, engineering them into drug-carrying vehicles that rupture when exposed to certain environmental stimuli. Such vesicles may slowly release their contents in a controlled fashion; they may even contain more than one type of drug, released at different times or under various conditions.

However, it's difficult to predict just how hydrogels will rupture, and up until now it's been difficult to control the shape into which a hydrogel morphs. Nick Fang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says predicting how hydrogels transform could help in the design of more complex and effective drug-delivery systems.

"What kind of shape is more efficient for flowing through the bloodstream and attaching to a cell membrane?" Fang says. "With proper knowledge of how gels swell, we can start to generate patterns at our wish."

Fang and postdoc Howon Lee, along with colleagues at Arizona State University, are studying the mechanics of shape-shifting hydrogels: looking for relationships between a hydrogel structure's initial shape, and the medium in which it transforms, in order to predict its final shape. In a paper to appear in Physical Review Letters, the researchers report that they can now create and predict complex shapes including star-shaped wrinkles and waves from hydrogels.

The findings may provide an analytical foundation for designing intricate shapes and patterns from hydrogels.

From PowerPoint to 3-D

To create various hydrogel structures, Fang and his collaborators used an experimental setup that Fang helped inve
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Contact: Caroline McCall
cmccall5@mit.edu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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