Inspired by nature: Mussel fibers lead Holten-Andersen to create polymer gels with strong, but reversible, metal coordination bonds
A sudden inspiration led then Ph.D.-student Niels Holten-Andersen to the lab on a Saturday night to test his idea that changing the pH of could cause a fluid polymer dissolved in water to form a gel.
Niels Holten-Andersen, John Chipman Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, holds a photo of a highly magnified image of byssal, the non-living fiber which mussels use to attach themselves to rocks underwater. Photo: Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center
Although he first began working with polymers to try to mimic the binding ability of mussels and other marine organisms during his Ph.D. studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, it wasn't until his post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago that his ideas literally began to gel.
Mussel threads, or byssal (from the Greek for beard), have a unique characteristic that they are initially hard if you pull on them, but that initial stiffness gives way to a stretchy fiber that retracts if left alone in water after it is stretched out.
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