Snails Are a Muse for Super Strength Glue Made from Mostly Water

Drawing inspiration from snails and barnacles, an MIT research team has created a hydrogel super strength glue made almost entirely of water.


Some of the best innovations take their cue from nature, a design practice known as "biomimicry." So if you think about barnacles or snails, what stands out in your mind? How about their ability to attach to things in super-human fashion.

These creatures make use of a naturally occurring hydrogel that combines water and organic gummy material to let them form a ridiculously strong bond against their surroundings. (Ever try to take the barnacles off the bottom of a boat, and you know what I mean!)

A research team with MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering was so intrigued by these creatures’ stickiness powers, it drew inspiration to create a hydrogel superglue that is made almost entirely of water. The MIT team developed a synthetic glue that is more than 90 percent water, yet holds to the same durability and versatility standards of natural hydrogel, according to an article in Digital Trends. Described as a mostly transparent adhesive, the MIT-made glue has a rubbery quality, enabling it to bond to a number of materials, including glass, silicon, ceramics and some metals.

According to the article, the most interesting thing about the glue is its water-based constitution, which makes it really useful for underwater applications, including being used as a protective surface on boats, ships and submarines. Because the material is made of nearly all water, it’s also biocompatible, lending itself to a range of health industry use cases such as as a biomedical coating for internal catheters and sensors, according to the article.

Just how strong is the bond from this hydrogel? Apparently, the MIT team was able to hang a 55-pound weight from two plates of glass glued together using just a small amount of the material. The researchers say the strength is up to 1,000 joules per square meter–similar to the bond between tendon and cartilage on a bone.

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