A new material that is both very hard and flexible has been produced.

Glass-like gels are expected to be used in various fields. This plastic-like material withstands tremendous pressure while maintaining its flexibility.
A new material that is both very hard and flexible has been produced.

Scientists have produced a new material that is both very hard and flexible, despite being more than half liquid. The material, which is easy to manufacture, is expected to be used in many fields.

While materials in the glassy polymers class are known for being solid and brittle, gels are flexible and soft due to their liquid content.

These two very different materials are used in various products: the former in items like water bottles, and gels, especially in recent years, in contact lenses.

Researchers at North Carolina State University in the USA have created a new material that combines the best properties of these two distinct substances and named it “glassy gel.”

The researchers mixed a liquid precursor of glassy polymers, composed of liquids and ions, with a liquid solvent. They then poured this mixture into a mold and exposed it to ultraviolet light to harden it through a process called curing.

The material removed from the mold was both hard and flexible. Michael Dickey, the lead author of the paper published Monday in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature, describes the new material as follows:

“We’ve created a class of materials that we call glassy gels. They are as hard as glassy polymers but can stretch up to five times their original length without breaking when sufficient force is applied.”

The researchers state that the glassy gel returns to its original size when heated. After various tests, it was found that the material did not dry out or evaporate despite containing 50 to 60 percent liquid.

Dickey points out that the most intriguing aspect of the glassy gels is their stickiness, saying, “Because while we understand what makes them hard and flexible, we can only speculate about what makes them so sticky.”

The scientists indicate that the best results with this easily made material are obtained with electrically charged or polar polymers, as they are attracted to ion-containing liquids.

The study emphasizes that the material, which conducts electricity better than similar plastics, is produced through a much simpler process. Typically, in the production of these plastics, a polymer is first produced as a raw material, and then it needs to be processed in a different facility. Dickey adds:

“The manufacturing of glassy gels is a simple process that can be done by curing in any kind of mold or with 3D printing.”

Although the new material is still in its early stages, scientists are hopeful that its easy production will lead to widespread use in many areas. Meixiang Wang, co-lead author of the study, states:

“We are excited to see how glassy gels can be used and are open to collaborations to identify applications for these materials.”

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