Rutgers engineers have invented a “4D printing” method for a smart gel that could lead to the development of “living” structures in human organs and tissues, soft robots and targeted drug delivery.

The 4D printing approach here involves printing a 3D object with a hydrogel (water-containing gel) that changes shape over time when temperatures change, said Howon Lee, senior author of a new study and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

The study, published online today in Scientific Reports, demonstrates fast, scalable, high-resolution 3D printing of hydrogels, which remain solid and retain their shape despite containing water. Hydrogels are everywhere in our lives, including in Jell-O, contact lenses, diapers, and the human body.

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