Hydrogels are a useful class of materials, polymers that strongly attract water but don’t dissolve. They’re used to make contact lenses and the urine-absorbing filling in disposable diapers, and they help soil retain water, among other applications. Hydrogels were first characterized in the 1960s, and research is ongoing today. Hitendra Kumar, a postdoc in Dylan R. Pillai’s lab at the University of Calgary, captured this electron microscope image while studying the interaction of hydrogels with zwitterionic compounds—molecules that carry positively and negatively charged groups at different points in their structure. Kumar says including the zwitterionic compound first changed the normally smooth hydrogel pore structure to the rippled appearance seen here. Then, as the concentration of the additive exceeded its solubility, rod-like crystals formed, embedded into the hydrogel structure. Kumar says such hydrogels show promising antimicrobial and antifouling properties.
Submitted by Hitendra Kumar
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