Despite being made of 90 percent water, MIT's hydrogel superglue is ridiculously strong

The natural properties of some of the world’s most innocuous sea creatures are making their way into mechanical engineering labs. A research team in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering took inspiration from creatures like mussels and barnacles to create a hydrogel superglue that is made almost entirely of water, but is incredibly strong and boasts a wide variety of applications.

Naturally occurring hydrogel mixes water and organic gummy material to allow sea creatures to form durable bonds with their surroundings, or even with passing vessels. The synthetic superglue created in MIT’s Mechanical Engineering lab is more than 90 percent water, and still mimics the durability and versatility of natural hydrogel. It is a mostly transparent adhesive, and its rubbery quality means it can bond any number of materials, including glass, silicon, ceramics, aluminum, titanium and steel.

Durability is an obviously important aspect of inventing a new adhesive solution, but underwater durability is a category all its own. The strength of this hydrogel superglue is one thing, but its water-based constitution also makes it uniquely useful for underwater purposes, like protective coatings on the surfaces of boats, ships, and submarines. What’s more, the fact that that the synthetic hydrogel is 90 percent water makes it biocompatible, and well suited for use in health industry tools like biomedical coatings for internal catheters and sensors.

MIT says their hydrogel superglue is as strong as the bond between tendon and cartilage on bone in the body, and a wide range of durability tests prove that assertion. The team was able to hang a 55-pound weight from two plates of glass glued together with a small area of hydrogel. When hydrogel was applied to a silicon wafer, smashing the silicon caused the pieces to shatter but not disperse, thanks to the strength of the adhesive. On average, researchers on the MIT team found that their hydrogel was much stronger than other existing hydrogel applications, measuring strength up to 1,000 joules per square meter.

Hydrogel is as strong as heavy duty industrial glue, but since it is made mostly of water, it remains soft and pliable. In the future, the tendon and cartilage comparison could go further than a simple demonstration of the hydrogel’s strength. Because hydrogel maintains its softness in spite of its strength and durability, the MIT team is exploring ways to use the adhesive as a synthetic flexible joint in soft robotics development and bioelectronics.

Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Photography

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses -- something no phone…
Mobile

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2019

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.
Outdoors

Snooze soundly anywhere you lay your head with the best sleeping bags

A proper sleeping bag has the ability to make or break a camping or backpacking trip. Here are our picks for the best sleeping bags on the market to help you choose the correct bag for any type of outdoor adventure.
Outdoors

Drink what nature provides with the best water purifiers

Looking for reliable water purification? Staying hydrated is important, especially when you are hiking or camping far from civilization. Check out our picks of the best water purifiers for your camp, backpack, or pocket.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.