Scientists Use Hydrogel to "Grow" Synthetic Tree

After announcing that I am honored to act as the National Spokesperson for 4-H’s National Youth Science Day, I have been keeping up with lots of news about the use of Hydrogels in modern science.  Here at Steve Spangler Science, we have been playing with these superabsobent polymers for years and are excited to introduce them to a new group of young scientists.  I came across an article today about a scientist at Cornell University who is using one form of Hydrogels to “grow” a synthetic tree.

Synthetic Tree in HydrogelHydrogels are found in many different varieties, our Water Gel and Water Jelly Crystals are just one type.  Abraham Stroock and student Tobias Wheeler, created a simulated tree that sits in Hydrogel and is really just two circles, side-by-side, with evenly spaced microfluidic channels that represent a tree’s vascular system.  The two scientists are working on research that supports the theory that transpiration in trees and plants is a physical process that doesn’t require any biological energy.  Scientists also believe that this study could help find ways for better heat transfer in cars and buildings, better soil remediation and better ways to pull water out of partly dry ground.

The type of Hydrogel that these researchers are using is the same kind that is found in soft contact lenses and it works well for this experiment because, like Water Jelly Crystals, it retains water, which helps demonstrate the flow of water through the “tree’s” capillary systems.

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