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Solar panels successfully grow spinach by pulling in water vapour, experts report

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Solar panels that grow spinach by pulling in water vapour from the air could offer a low-cost strategy to produce crops in the desert, a new study says. A new system, called WEC2P, consists of solar panels coated with hydrogel – a kind of squishy water loving polymer, researchers in Saudi Arabia report. The hydrogel-lined solar panels are mounted on top of a large metal box that turns water vapour from the air into liquid water for growing crops. Over two weeks of hot weather last summer, the researchers were able to grow spinach with a crop survival rate of 95 per cent. According to the experts, the technology offers a'sustainable and low-cost strategy' to improve food and water security.

Soft yet strong gel keeps its shape after being run over by a car

New Scientist

A soft gel made of 80 per cent water has similar properties to shatterproof glass and can withstand being run over by a car 16 times without lasting deformation. The material could be useful for a range of applications including soft robots, prosthetics and wearable devices. Hydrated polymer networks, or hydrogels, that have been made before are soft and stretchable, with rubber-like properties. But under high compression, these gels fail to bounce back to their original shape. Now Oren Scherman and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge have created a soft and compression-resistant gel that can rapidly return to its original shape within a couple of minutes, even after being repeatedly squished by a car weighing 1200 kilograms.

Robotic grippers are delicate enough to lift egg yolks, experts show

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Scientists have created incredible robotic grippers inspired by the Japanese art of Kirigami that are delicate enough to lift a raw egg yolk without breaking it. Kirigami is a Japanese art similar to origami, except it makes use of intricate cuts to paper, rather than relying on folding alone, to create striking 3D art. The plastic grippers, created by experts at North Carolina State University, are also precise enough to lift a human hair and a live fish without hurting it. Footage shows that they lift blobs of shampoo foam and even pine nuts off the top of a raw egg yolk without puncturing it. The grippers are demonstrated in a new paper as a concept for now, but they could have applications for biomedical technologies, such as joint implants.

US Navy funds MIT robotic JELLYFISH that can catch fish

Daily Mail - Science & tech

It might not have the speed of using a net or the finesse of a rod and line, but a military funded robot made out of jelly could give fishermen some competition. Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a swimming robot out of gel that can capture a live fish in its'tentacles'. The robot, which looks remarkably similar to a jellyfish and was partly funded by the US Office of Naval Research, can move by pumping water through their body. The robot (pictured) is made from a jelly like material called hydrogel, which gives it a soft rubbery texture and makes it almost see-through. They can also rapidly curl and uncurl their arms by inflating them with water, giving them a fast and firm grip.

Advances in engineering hydrogels


Hydrogels with substantially improved physicochemical properties have been enabled by rational design at the molecular level and control over multiscale architecture. For example, formulations that combine permanent polymer networks with reversibly bonding chains for energy dissipation show strong toughness and stretchability. Similar strategies may also substantially enhance the bonding affinity of hydrogels at interfaces with solids by covalently anchoring the polymer networks of tough hydrogels onto solid surfaces. Shear-thinning hydrogels that feature reversible bonds impart a fluidic nature upon application of shear forces and return back to their gel states once the forces are released. Self-healing hydrogels based on nanomaterial hybridization, electrostatic interactions, and slide-ring configurations exhibit excellent abilities in spontaneously healing themselves after damages.