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).
Our reliance on air conditioning, however magical an innovation, has become a serious environmental burden. Which is why researchers in Barcelona designed a material they say can naturally cool rooms by about 5 degrees Celsius, using a moisture-absorbing polymer that "sweats" much like our own body.
University of Illinois engineers just showed off a new kind of robot that's half animal, half machine. More specifically, it's a tiny "bio-bot" that's powered by actual muscle but supported by 3D-printed hydro-gels. And the best part is that it can be controlled by pulses of electricity.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded a grant to an Australian research team trying to build a better condom. They're hardly the first to win such an award, but they have a novel approach. These polymer scientists are making condoms out of hydrogels, the same materials used in contact lenses.
Plastic polymers are efficient, cheap and easy to make—but not very environmentally friendly. Hydrogels had previously not been really considered a viable alternative, because they're, well, gels. But by attaching them to clay, that's all changed.