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Scientists discover way to manipulate properties of gel

By Andrew MCDOUGALL , 07-Nov-2012

Scientists in Switzerland have discovered new ways to manipulate the properties of gel which could take important step towards developing materials for the cosmetics industry.

The new research, supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) focuses on controlling and modifying the transparency, electrical properties, and stiffness of a gel at will.

Gels can be found in a wide variety of product types including skin, hair, nail, and make-up products, as well as dentifrices – and also in different industrial applications.

Their ultra-absorbent properties, flexibility, and grip make them appealing to researchers and manufacturers. The EPFL researchers have just published how to combine two gels in such a way that they can monitor and change, almost at will, the properties of the new combined material.

Expand on research

They believe this discovery opens the door to a great deal of applications, for example, by associating molecules with specific electromagnetic properties, but also by altering the geometry of the particles network.

"We could apply these methods to a wealth of materials other than gels, foams or inks," says Giuseppe Foffi, one of the scientists. To explore this new area, the researcher must expand from the micro- to the nanometric level. He also wants to explore "trigels" and other "polygels."

Foffi’s research method can predict how the two materials will aggregate to form a new one. Work undertaken in Cambridge by Erika Eiser and his group has produced a material that researchers have named "bigel"; the focal area of the study.

Novel route from gels to bigels.

The researchers managed to create it quickly by combining DNA fragments with different nanoparticles to produce gels with various pre-determined properties.

By varying the size of the network of "bigel" particles on the microscopic level, it is possible to adjust light in a controlled manner.

The physicists can determine to what light the gel is sensitive, by becoming more or less opaque. The same type of plasticity is also possible for electrical particles.

According to the researchers, another interesting characteristic of "bigels" is their reversibility, as heat will separate the components.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.