Researchers have shown a way to use graphene oxide (GO) to add some backbone to hydrogel materials made from alginate, a natural material derived from seaweed that is currently used in a variety of biomedical applications. They use a 3D printing method for making intricate and durable alginate-GO structures that are far stiffer and more fracture resistant that alginate alone.

A hybrid material out of seaweed-derived alginate and the nanomaterial graphene oxide. (Credit: Wong Lab/Brown University)

The material is also capable of becoming stiffer or softer in response to different chemical treatments, meaning it could be used to make “smart” materials that are able to react to their surroundings in real time, the research shows. In addition, alginate-GO retains alginate's ability to repel oils, giving the new material potential as a sturdy antifouling coating.

The researchers showed that alginate-GO could be made twice as stiff as alginate alone, and far more resistant to failure through cracking. The extra stiffness enabled the researchers to print structures that had overhanging parts, which would have been impossible using alginate alone. The increased stiffness didn't prevent alginate-GO also from responding to external stimuli like alginate alone can.

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