This feature is part of Vision Japan
, a series about the visionaries who are changing Japan, and the places that inspire this innovation. See more here
Researchers have developed a new gel they say is as durable as metal, has the flexibility of jello, and could revolutionize how our bodies heal and age.
It may look like a mesh bandage, but this material engineered by scientists in Japan is said to be five times stronger than carbon steel. The tough, bendable fabric combines hydrogels --- such as those found in contact lenses or jello -- with glass fibers. This particular combination maximizes its resilience, making the material 100 times tougher than hydrogels and 25 times tougher than glass fiber fabric, based on the amount of energy needed to destroy it.
That's according to the team of Hokkaido University scientists
who have spent the past three years working on the composite material.
"It's the strongest soft material ever obtained by human beings," Professor Jian Ping Gong, who leads the team, tells CNN.
Gong believes the fiber-reinforced hydrogel could be used to create biomaterials, such as artificial organs and prostheses, able to endure everyday wear-and-tear.
"It might be used as a biological substitute like artificial cartilage, or artificial ligament, or various kinds of artificial organs," she says.
Other uses could include sports clothing, helmets or bulletproof vests.
"I think it could have very good performance against a bullet," says Gong.
This soft durable material could be used to create artificial ligaments and organs. Credit: CNN
Guided by nature
Gong's inspiration comes from exploring the great outdoors in Sapporo, the mountainous capital city of Hokkaido in northern Japan.
"Sometimes when I see a flower coming out from a very hard floor -- concrete crack -- I was wondering why the small flower, such a small lovely flower, has such a big large energy to come out," she says.
"This gel itself looks very soft and weak but it can create a huge amount of energies."
1/10 – Graphene-gyroid
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have designed a new material that is 10 times stronger than steel. Scroll through the gallery to see other examples of extraordinary materials. Credit: melanie gonick/MIT
While Gong's team is still perfecting the technology, they are already working on collaborations with companies in the field of artificial cartilage.
"If our material can ... make people live in better ways, I think we will be very, very happy."