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Research by Dr. Anna Balazs: Oscillating gel gives synthetic materials the ability to “speak”


CONTACT: B. Rose Huber (rhuber@pitt.edu, 412-624-4356, Cell: 412-328-6008)

PITTSBURGH  (January 8, 2012) ... Self-moving gels can give synthetic materials the ability to "act alive" and mimic primitive biological communication, University of Pittsburgh researchers have found.

In a paper published in the  Jan. 8 print edition of the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , the Pitt research team demonstrates that a synthetic system can reconfigure itself through a combination of chemical communication and interaction with light.

Anna Balazs , principal investigator of the study and Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, has long studied the properties of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gel, a material first fabricated in the late 1990s and shown to pulsate in the absence of any external stimuli.

In a previous study, the Pitt team noticed that long pieces of gel attached to a surface by one end "bent" toward one another, almost as if they were trying to communicate by sending signals. This hint that "chatter" might be taking place led the team to detach the fixed ends of the gels and allow them to move freely.

Balazs and her team developed a 3-D gel model to test the effects of the chemical signaling and light on the material. They found that when the gel pieces were moved far apart, they would automatically come back together, exhibiting autochemotaxis - the ability to both emit and sense a chemical, and move in response to that signal.

Read the full news release here.


Contact: B. Rose Huber