New adhesive tech could let you remove Band-Aids with a blast of UV light

It doesn’t matter if you do it slowly and carefully or rip it off in one go, pulling off Band-Aids still really, really sucks. But that could be about to change. Well, if a piece of research from Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and China’s Xi’an Jiaotong University comes to pass, that is. Scientists at both institutions have developed a new type of adhesive that can be easily detached using a specific frequency of ultraviolet light.

“Strong adhesion and easy detachment are both very important in a wide range of applications such as wearable electronics, biomedical devices, wound dressing, drug delivery, and hydrogel ionotronics,” Yang Gao, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “We use an aqueous solution of polymer chains as glue and spread it between two materials. For adhesion, the polymer chains are triggered to form a network, stitching the two materials by topological entanglement with their preexisting networks. This process is called topological adhesion. For detachment, the stitching network dissolves by an exposure to UV light.”

Zhigang Suo, professor of Mechanics and Materials at Harvard’s SEAS, told us that the researchers are now working on engineering other stimuli or light frequency ranges which could be used for removing strong adhesives. “We may consider commercialization if there is appropriate opportunity,” Suo said.

A paper describing the research, titled “Photodetachable Adhesion,” was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials. Alongside Gao and Suo, the other researcher on the project was Kangling Wu from Xi’an Jiaotong University.

As innovative as this research is, it’s not the first time that we’ve covered new smart adhesive technologies. At Michigan Technological University, researchers are working on a waterproof glue which could be used to create medical dressings that stay attached even when a person sweats or gets wet. This material is inspired by the natural adhesives mussels use to adhere themselves to rocks and the underside of boats. Most impressive of all, the team hopes that a smart molecule-blocking technique will allow the adhesive to be made sticky or non-sticky at will, essentially turning it on or off.

Whichever technology gets to market first, it seems that Band-Aids are about to get a whole lot smarter.

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