Materials Science

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Scientists find electrifying solution to sticky problem

Terry Steele with a sample of Voltaglue. Image: NTU Singapore.
Terry Steele with a sample of Voltaglue. Image: NTU Singapore.

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), have invented a glue that hardens when a voltage is applied to it, allowing it to be used in wet and damp conditions. A paper on this innovative research was recently published in Nature Communications.

The new adhesive, nicknamed ‘Voltaglue’, opens up a host of possible practical applications, from making underwater repairs to ships and pipes to being a versatile tool for surgery. In future, surgeons could use biocompatible glue patches to join two pieces of internal body tissue together in one or two minutes, compared with the 15 to 20 minutes of careful stitching required for sutures.

Assistant professor Terry Steele, the lead scientist for this research project from NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, said it took them over a year to develop an adhesive that could work under wet conditions such as in the human body or underwater. “Most glues in the market don’t work under wet conditions, much like how sticky tapes won’t work if the surface is wet, since the adhesive will stick to the water instead of the surface,” he explained.

Usually, adhesives such as superglue harden upon contact with moisture in the air. Others like epoxy, which is often used in electronic mobile devices, has to be baked at high temperatures of about 150°C, or made by mixing together two different chemicals. These methods are unsuitable in wet environments.

“We had to find a way to make glue which cures (hardens) when we want it without being affected by the environmental conditions, so electricity was the best approach for us,” said Steele. “The hardness of our glue can be adjusted by the amount of time we apply a voltage to it, which we call electrocuring.”

This unique electrocuring property allows Voltaglue to be customised for different applications. “For example, if we are gluing metal panels underwater, we want it hard enough to stick for a long time. However, for medical applications, we want the glue to be more rubber-like so it wouldn’t cause any damage to the surrounding soft tissues.”

Voltaglue is developed using hydrogels consisting of carbon molecules called carbenes grafted onto tree-shaped molecules known as dendrimers. Upon contact with electricity, the reactive carbenes, which are capable of hooking onto any surface nearby, are released. The number of ‘hooks’ released depends on how long electricity is applied and how many carbenes are present.

Another distinct feature of the new glue is that it could be made reversible, offering the possibility of producing products that can be easily recycled, reused or remanufactured into new parts and components so as to reduce waste and energy consumption. For example, it would allow automakers and shipyards to assemble and dissemble parts with ease, minimizing the need for fixation by bolts, nuts and screws.

Moving forward, Steele and his team of 11 researchers are working to improve their new electrocuring glue so it can harden in just a few seconds, compared to about 30 seconds at the moment. The Voltaglue technology is currently patented through NTUitive, the university’s commercialisation arm, and Steele and his team are also looking for the best way to commercialize it through a new start-up or via industry partnerships.

This story is adapted from material from NTU Singapore, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.

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Materials Awards

Elsevier awards researchers and research organizations throughout the world who have been credited with outstanding achievements and are making a significant contribution to the advancement of their field, thereby having a positive influence on our society.

The prizes are a tribute to the men and women who have contributed to the progress of humanity through their dedication to science. Serving as a source of inspiration, the awards help raise the profile of talented individuals and the organizations, in addition to the profession as a whole. 

Elsevier is proud to support the following awards in materials science:

Acta Gold Medal Awards in Material Science - Acta MaterialiaActa Gold Medal Awards in Material Science – Acta BiomaterialiaMaterials Today Cover Competition Materials Science and Engineering C: Young Researcher Award – Materials Science and Engineering: C
Carbon Journal Prize – Carbon
Young Scholar Prize – Diamond and Related Materials
John H. Dillon Medal – Polymer
Feng Xinde Polymer Prize for Best Chinese Paper – Polymer Materials Science and Engineering: A Journal Prize – Materials Science and Engineering: A
Nano Today Cover Competition: Nano Today Biomaterials: A Year in Images – Biomaterials
Robert Cahn Award – Journal of Nuclear Materials
Nano Today Award – Nano Today
Hermen F. Mark Award – Polymer
Hermen Mark Scholar Awards - Polymer


4th International Conference on the Physics of Optical Materials and Devices

The 4th International Conference on the Physics of Optical Materials and Devices, 31st August-4th September 2015, Budva, Montenegro

The Organizing Committee would like to invite You to the 4th International Conference on the Physics of Optical Materials and Devices (ICOM 2015) which is to be held in Budva, Montenegro, from 31st August to 4th September 2015, and is organized by the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences, University of Belgrade (Serbia) and the Institut de Chimie de Clermont-Ferrand, Universite Blaise Pascal (France) and IRCP Chimie Paristech.

The 4th Edition of ICOM Conference will celebrate 2015 - International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. Light plays a vital role in our daily lives and is an imperative cross-cutting discipline of science in the 21st century. Special conference session will highlight the importance of light and light-based technologies in everyday lives, for the futures, and for the development of society.

The ICOM 2015 Conference brings together scientists and technology users who investigate or develop materials for optical applications. The conference presents the state of the art in preparation methods, optical characterization and usage of optical materials and devices in various photonic fields.

We are looking forward to seeing you in Budva.

Organizing Committee of ICOM 2015 Conference

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