When warmed, a new synthetic polymer forms a network, seen here under an atomic force microscope. The gaps are about one-tenth of a micrometer. A. ROWAN ET AL / RADBOUD UNIVERSITY OF NIJMEGEN

NATURE | NEWS

Polymer can turn swimming pool to jelly

Stiff supergel mimics cell scaffolding and melts when cooled.

Mark Peplow
23 January 2013

Take one kilogram of polyisocyanide polymer. Sprinkle liberally across an Olympic swimming pool. Warm gently. Within minutes, your jelly is ready. Serves 25 million.

Alan Rowan, a materials chemist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, is describing the properties of a remarkable polymer developed in his lab and unveiled today in Nature1. He has not actually run the swimming-pool experiment, but he sounds as if he would love to give it a try. When it comes to forming gels, he says excitedly, his polymer is “probably the best in the world — an order of magnitude better than anything else”.

But it offers much more than record-breaking dessert portions: it is the first synthetic polymer that can match the rigidity found in many biological polymers, says Margaret Gardel, a biophysicist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, who wrote a News and Views article2 to accompany the publication. “Nearly all biopolymers, like DNA or collagen, have some inherent rigidity,” she explains; synthetic polymers, by contrast, tend to be extremely floppy.

Read more: Polymer can turn swimming pool to jelly : Nature News & Comment.

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