By combining the water-loving properties of hydrogels with the structural attributes of liquid crystals, Professor Patrick Mather of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute at Syracuse University has developed a material that, he believes, will enable new, previously unattainable medical applications. A paper describing the process is the cover story in this month's Journal of Polymer Science B: Polymer Physics.
Liquid crystals, as their name implies, are fluid yet retain some of the order of a crystal and, thus, can maintain a three-dimensional structure. They are not water-loving, however, and are not good candidates for use inside the body. By contrast, hydrogels are water loving but lack structure. Mather has developed a process that combines the desirable properties of both materials, creating the potential for new materials with mechanical properties similar to soft tissues in the body.