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2D material programming approach for shaping multipotential 3D structures

05 March 2021

It's Morphin' Time

Inside an embryo, sheets of cells twist and fold into early tissues. Taking inspiration here, scientists produce intricate 3D shapes from 2D templates of bendy hydrogel. Using photolithography they etch a 'design' into the jelly-like material, marking out places where it will swell or shrink. A blast of temperature sets this hemisphere design bending and folding, expanding and shrinking along its creases like a crisp packet in an oven. The video (speeded up 450 times) follows the reversible process, with the gel returning to its original shape as it cools. The techniques here are flexible in more ways than one – shape-shifting hydrogels may be used to mimic and explore the shape changes or morphogenesis that occur during human development, but also in creating ‘soft robots’ perhaps one day triggered to release helpful chemicals into the body.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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