These cute little blue jellyfish are, sadly, not real. They’re polysaccharide-based hydrogels made by Zhen Zhang as part of his postdoctoral research in Lucian A. Lucia’s lab at North Carolina State University. Zhang wanted to look at the gel-forming behavior of the water-insoluble molecule pectic acid, which is a long chain of sugar units peppered with carboxylic acid groups. So he mixed up a suspension of pectic acid and methylene blue dye in water, and then he dripped it into an aqueous solution of calcium ions. As each drop hits the calcium solution, the carboxylic acid groups bind in pairs to the calcium ions, interconnecting the pectic acid chains. The resulting tangles of molecules form floating, jellyfish-shaped blobs of hydrogel. Now a researcher at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute at Texas Tech University, Zhang is continuing his hydrogel research with an eye towards developing gels for applications such as delivering drugs.
Submitted by Zhen Zhang
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