Artificial flesh is growing ever closer to the real thing. Scientists in Australia have now created a new jelly-like material which they claim has the strength and durability of actual skin, ligaments, or even bone.
"With the special chemistry we've engineered in the hydrogel, it can repair itself after it has been broken like human skin can," explains chemist Luke Connal from the Australian National University.
"Hydrogels are usually weak, but our material is so strong it could easily lift very heavy objects and can change its shape like human muscles do."
Having a squishy material with such remarkable properties could be huge for the development of next-generation soft robotics and biomedical devices. Creating a shape-changing hydrogel that has multiple functions has proved an ongoing challenge for scientists, even with natural inspiration from jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and Venus fly traps.
While some hydrogels can withstand mechanical stress, others have self-healing properties, and a few more have the abilities to memorise shapes or change colours.
As far as the ANU researchers know, no one else has been able to incorporate all these functions into one all-encompassing gel. At least, not at the speed and efficiency they've achieved.
Putting their material through multiple tests, the authors claim to have created the first dynamic hydrogel that is strong, tough, fatigue resistant, self-healing and able to change shapes and 'remember' them afterwards.