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A brand new dice of coloured hydrogel blocks would possibly encourage new methods to retailer and detect data and presumably even assist sufferers monitor their medical situations.
The dice, which seems and acts like a Rubik’s Dice, incorporates rotatable particular person rows and columns; manipulating them adjustments the colour sample on the dice’s six faces.
However not like the inflexible plastic of a Rubik’s Dice, the brand new construction is manufactured from a self-healing hydrogel, a squishy polymer materials that may take up giant quantities of water and type new chemical bonds when previous bonds break.
A researcher grabs the hydrogel Rubik’s Dice-like construction. (Credit score: Xiaofan Ji)
Like a bodily QR code
The workforce got here up with the construction as half of a bigger effort to seek out new methods to encode data into bodily objects.
“Consider QR codes, that are patterns of black and white pixels on a two-dimensional floor used to retailer data,” says Jonathan Sessler, a professor of chemistry on the College of Texas at Austin and coauthor of the paper within the journal Superior Supplies.
“We’re exploring methods to encode data in patterns of colour and in three dimensions, theoretically resulting in a a lot increased data density.”
Mathematicians estimate that there are roughly 43 quintillion—that’s 43 instances 10 to 18th energy—distinctive configurations of a Rubik’s Dice, suggesting one dice may retailer an unlimited quantity of data.
“Over a short while, you’ll be able to manipulate the interactions between the little blocks,” Sessler says. “It’s sticky, however they aren’t getting caught. Then over an extended time, say 24 hours, the construction locks into place.”
Remixing hydrogel blocks
Scientists coloured the 27 constructing blocks within the dice utilizing a brand new class of fluorescent dots invented by Ben Zhong Tang, a chemist on the Hong Kong College of Science and Know-how. Xiaofan Ji, a former postdoctoral researcher at College of Texas at Austin, now working in Tang’s lab, led the venture.
When elements of a self-healing hydrogel tear aside after which reattach in a special orientation, new chemical bonds type to carry it within the new configuration. One of many challenges with making the brand new squishy Rubik’s Dice was to make the bonds weak sufficient that individuals may simply rotate rows by hand, but sturdy sufficient for the entire construction to retain its form.
Researchers must do extra work earlier than they’ll apply the innovation to information storage, or for different purposes, equivalent to in wearable sensors monitoring a affected person’s chemical adjustments, for instance, in somebody with diabetes.
Blast from the previous
Within the 1980s, Sessler used arithmetic to seek out totally different sequence of rotations that he may use to rearrange colour patterns on a Rubik’s Dice in a managed means. With sufficient time, he may take a scrambled dice and restore it to its authentic situation, with stable colours on every face.
“I’d be at a celebration and anyone would throw me a Rubik’s Dice,” Sessler says. “And I’d go off within the nook and clear up it in a socially acceptable period of time—one thing like 10 or 20 minutes.”
“Now,” with this new Rubik’s Dice all we’ve to do is pull it aside and stick the blocks again collectively the place we wish. We are able to clear up the issue in seconds through the use of the facility of chemistry to cheat.”
The Nationwide Science Basis of China, the Analysis Grant Council of Hong Kong, the Science and Know-how Plan of Shenzhen, the Innovation and Know-how Fee (China), the US Nationwide Science Basis, and the Robert A. Welch Basis funded the work.
Supply: College of Texas at Austin
Authentic Research DOI: 10.1002/adma.201902365