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Soon, oscillating gel may give robots ability to 'feel'

Washington, Fri, 30 Mar 2012 ANI

Washington, Mar 30 (ANI): Researchers have shown that a nonoscillating gel can be resuscitated in a fashion similar to a medical cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

These findings by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pave the way for the development of a wide range of new applications that sense mechanical stimuli and respond chemically-a natural phenomenon few materials have been able to mimic.

A team of researchers at Pitt made predictions regarding the behaviour of Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gel, a material that was first fabricated in the late 1990s and shown to pulsate in the absence of any external stimuli. In fact, under certain conditions, the gel sitting in a petri dish resembles a beating heart.

Along with her colleagues, Anna Balazs, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, predicted that BZ gel not previously oscillating could be re-excited by mechanical pressure.

The prediction was actualized by MIT researchers, who proved that chemical oscillations can be triggered by mechanically compressing the BZ gel beyond a critical stress.

"Think of it like human skin, which can provide signals to the brain that something on the body is deformed or hurt," said Balazs.

"This gel has numerous far-reaching applications, such as artificial skin that could be sensory-a holy grail in robotics," Balazs added.

Balazs said the gel could serve as a small-scale pressure sensor for different vehicles or instruments to see whether they'd been bumped, providing diagnostics for the impact on surfaces.

This sort of development-and materials like BZ gel-are things Balazs has been interested in since childhood.

The study has been published online in Advanced Functional Materials. (ANI)


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