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This squid-inspired protein is the future of PPE



As Covid-19 infections continue to spread, it is important to keep a clean mask that is still comparable. However, after repeated wear and washing, these masks may rupture and allow the virus to be exposed through small, fiber-free holes.

Researchers are trying to solve this problem before it becomes commonplace by synthesizing special proteins found in octopuses, creating a self-healing material that can extend the life of both the mask and the fan.

In a study published Monday in a journal Natural materials, a team of materials scientists and technicians from Germany, Turkey and Penn State describe how they were able to transform unique octopus proteins into soft, biodegradable material that could be used to develop soft robots and tear ̵

1; resistant personal protective equipment (PPE).

Self-service material in itself is nothing new in the art, but existing self-medication materials can take up to 24 hours to heal and have much less overall resistance to damage, scientists explain.

Their new squid material, on the other hand, withstands tears and cuts and heals damage one second – while maintaining 100 percent of its previous strength.

From its humble beginnings as an octopus protein, this synthetic mimic can be used to assemble everything from PPE to robotic limbs.Natural materials

Abdon Pena-Francelsch, the first author of the study and a former doctoral student of Penn State, said in a statement that the transformation of these natural proteins for material use even allows them to transcend nature.

“We have been able to reduce the typical 24-hour healing period to one second so that our soft, protein-based robots can be repaired immediately,” said Pena-Francelsch. “In nature, self-healing takes a long time. In that sense, our technology transcends nature. ”

How does it work – The team mimicked the protein found in octopus teeth and developed a synthetic protein that consisted of so-called “tandem repeats” or pieces of DNA that were repeated.

By controlling how these repeats occurred in the protein, the team was able to create an incredibly strong cross-linked protein. Like Velcro, which can be disassembled and easily glued together, the sequence of DNA repeats in these proteins makes their molecular network incredibly resistant to permanent damage.

Melik Demirel, co-author of the study and Huck chairman of biomimetic materials in Penn State reversed that despite its resistance, this wound healing is not autonomous.

“It’s not self-activated,” says Demirel. He explains that the material needs water or pressure to regenerate the sparks. “We assume that this method can be performed with light in the future.”

Small puncture wounds in this material can self-heal by stimulating water and pressure for one second.Natural materials

What were the results – To test the durability of their new material, the team underwent a series of experiments, including tearing or cutting them and using them to make human muscles that could lift up to 3,000 times their own weight.

Compared to other self-medication materials that can be treated for up to 24 hours, the researchers found that their material was able to recover from damage in just one second, making it much more resilient in situations such as hospitals where a tear breaks. a piece of PPE can be fatal within minutes.

The team also found during the tests that the material was able to repair 100 percent of its strength after repair, unlike other materials that would lose some strength during each repair cycle.

In addition to creating a durable PPE, the authors argue that this material could also be used to make wear-resistant soft robots or even prosthetic limbs.

The future of PPE – In addition to developing light-based approaches to initiate material self-healing, the team is working to expand the process in the coming years, Demirel said. The aim is to develop products, such as prostheses or PPE, for non-laboratory environments.

Part of this possibility is the exciting possibility for biodegradable and environmentally friendly technology that the use of this material would allow, Demirel explains. Unlike polymer-based materials, which are difficult to degrade, this biomimetic material can rapidly dissolve in a simple acid, such as vinegar.

“From an environmental point of view, squid proteins not only provide new performance, but also bring roundness,” says Demirel. “Future masks or fans can be green or high-performance.”

abstract: Self-healing materials are essential for soft controllers and robots that work in dynamic and real environments, as these machines are susceptible to mechanical damage. However, current self-medication materials have shortcomings that limit their practical use, such as low healing power (below the megapascal) and long healing time (hours). Here we present high-strength synthetic proteins that spontaneously cure mechanical damage on a micro and macro scale per second by local heating. These materials are systematically optimized to improve their hydrogen-bonded nanostructure and network morphology with programmable healing properties (strength 2–23 MPa after 1 s of healing) that are several orders of magnitude higher than other natural and synthetic soft materials. Such a therapeutic performance creates new opportunities for the design of biofuel materials and addresses the current limitations in self-healing materials for soft robotics and personal protective equipment.


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