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Working out makes hydrogels perform more like muscle

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 National Science Foundation-funded 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. 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.

Visit Website | Image credit: Ji Liu, Shaoting Lin, and Xinyue Liu/MIT