Breakthrough creates tough material able to stretch, heal and defend itself

While eating takeout one day, University of Chicago scientists Bozhi Tian and Yin Fang started thinking about the noodles—specifically, their elasticity. A specialty of Xi’an, Tian’s hometown in China, is wheat noodles stretched by hand until they become chewy—strong and elastic. Why, the two materials scientists wondered, didn’t they get thin and weak instead?

They started experimenting, ordering pounds and pounds of noodles from the restaurant. “They got very suspicious,” Fang said. “I think they thought we wanted to steal their secrets to open a rival restaurant.”

But what they were preparing was a recipe for synthetic tissue—that could much more closely mimic biological skin and tissue than existing technology.

“It turns out that granules of common starch can be the missing ingredient for a composite that mimics many of the properties of tissue,” said Fang, a UChicago postdoctoral researcher and lead author of a new paper published Jan. 29 in the journal Matter. “We think this could fundamentally change the way we can make tissue-like materials.”

The breakthrough allows the synthetic tissue to stretch in multiple directions but to heal and defend itself by reorganizing its internal structures —which is how human skin protects itself. The discovery could one day lead to applications from soft robotics and medical implants to sustainable food packaging and biofiltration.

Read more at UChicago News.

Photo: A speciality in the Chinese city of Xi’an is hand-stretched noodles–whose structure inspired two University of Chicago scientists to create a better synthetic tissue. Copyright Shutterstock.