Polymers that mimic chameleon skin

Biological tissues have complex mechanical properties – soft-yet-strong, tough-yet-flexible – that are difficult to reproduce using synthetic materials. An international team has managed to produce a biocompatible synthetic material that replicates tissue mechanics and alters color when it changes shape, like chameleon skin.

These results, to which researchers from CNRS, Université de Haute-Alsace, and ESRF, the European Synchrotron, have contributed with colleagues in the US (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Akron), is published on March 30, 2018 in Science. They promise new materials for biomedical devices.

The researchers have attempted to achieve this with a unique triblock copolymer. They have synthesized a physically cross-linked elastomer composed of a central block onto which side chains are grafted (like a bottle brush) and with linear terminal blocks at each end (See figure). The researchers have found that by carefully selecting the polymer’s structural parameters, the material followed the same strain curve as a biological tissue, in this case, pigskin. It is also biocompatible, since it does not require additives, e.g. solvent, and remains stable in the presence of biological fluids.

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