A common chemical reaction that most people have witnessed firsthand is the inspiration for a new way to make a flexible gel film that could lead to innovations in sensors, batteries, robots, and more.
A research team led by Texas Engineers has developed what they call a “dip and peel” strategy for the simple and rapid fabrication of two-dimensional ionogel membranes. By dipping sustainable biomass materials into specific solvents, the particles naturally respond by arranging themselves into functional thin films at the edge of the material that can be easily removed using nothing more than a simple set of tweezers.
The researchers said this strategy was inspired by what happens to milk at elevated temperatures that we often observe in everyday life.
“In the milk shell effect, a film forms on the outer layer of milk when heated,” said Guiwa Yu, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Cockerell College of Engineering and Texas Institute for Materials, who focuses on materials science. . “We were inspired and explored this phenomenon in different materials to produce multifunctional gel films that are easy to separate.”
Research published in Synthesis of nature.
These gels consist of a polymer network surrounded by an ionic liquid. They are similar in structure to hydrogels, where water is the liquid component. But ionogels have a less rigid structure, which gives the ions more room to move around.
For this reason, they are highly conductive and highly sensitive. They have high potential as sensors, perhaps as part of wearable electronics that can more accurately track movement, heartbeat, and other aspects of health monitoring. It can also act as an electrolyte in solid-state batteries, and is part of a safer battery that transports ions back and forth to facilitate charging and discharging.
The main innovation in research is the new manufacturing process, and it works on many different materials. The process can be reproduced hundreds or thousands of times with high speed and low cost. Films can be easily processed to be as thick or thin as required and shaped or coated with other materials.
said Nancy (Yuhong) Gu, one of the lead authors on the paper, a former graduate student in Yu’s lab and now a postdoctoral researcher at MIT.
Yu said he hopes other researchers will pick up the technique and work with it for different technologies. Going forward, the research team will work on optimizing the mechanical properties for more advanced applications and functionality of next-generation technologies such as wearable electronics, smart robotics, and artificial intelligence.
This research also includes other collaborators from Northeast Forestry University and Shenyang University of Chemical Technology in China.