Image: Boston University

Hydrogel-based materials are the basis of many experiments in the science community, having been utilized in new ways to cool down buildings, make better condoms, and to generate soft tissues. They’re already used in contact lenses, and you can eat them with your Jello (or a version of them anyway).

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The possibilities for hydrogels, which are substances made from polymers that swell in water to form gel-like material, are seemingly endless due to their strength and insolubility. It apparently can’t be torn apart using your hands, according to hydrogel’s creator, and can be used to break down materials inside the body. Two new studies published this week only add to its ever-growing list of uses.

The first comes from a team at Boston University that hopes to use hydrogel-based dressings to help with second-degree burn wounds. According to the study, which was published in Angewandte Chemie, the dressing would be easier to remove than typical bandages, allowing for it to be dissolved manually.

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The team, led by Dr. Mark Grinstaff, tested the solution on rats with second-degree burns and found that it was effective against bacteria. This development promises to facilitate the recovery process for burn victims.

“It is known that secondary to the burn injury, burn dressing changes are reported to be the time of most pain as it involves mechanical debridement and cutting to remove the dressing,” Grinstaff said, according to Chemistry World.

Chinese scientists from Zhejiang University were behind a second study published in Materials Horizons that utilized hydrogels to create a material that snaps from one shape to another. Researchers modeled the “smart material” off of a Venus flytrap, which snaps shut when capturing prey. Chemistry World reported that the “snapping mechanism could be extended to other shape-changing materials.”

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What other ways could science have fun with hydrogels? Is it time to create a Stretch Armstrong of our very own?

[Chemistry World]