Are they birds? What is it? No, it’s ‘super jelly’ — a bizarre new material that can survive being run over by a car even though it’s composed of 80 per cent water.

Although the “glass-like hydrogel” may feel and look like squishy jelly when it is compressed, it can shatterproof glasses, according to its University of Cambridge scientists.

The gel is made from a combination of several polymers that are held together with a variety of chemical interactions. These can be customized to adjust the gel’s mechanical properties.

It is the first time ever that a soft material is capable of resisting compressive forces so strongly. 

Super jelly could find various applications, the team added, from use for building soft robotics and bioelectronics through to replacement for damaged cartilage. 

Already, the group has created a pressure sensor made of hydrogel from their material. It can be used underfoot to monitor subjects’ walking, standing, or jumping.

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's 'super jelly' ¿ a bizarre new material that can survive being run over by a car even though it's composed of 80 per cent water. Pictured: the glass-like hydrogel

Are they birds? What is it? No, it’s ‘super jelly’ — a bizarre new material that can survive being run over by a car even though it’s composed of 80 per cent water. The glass-like hydrogel

Hydrogels: What is it? 

Hydrogels consist of three-dimensional networks cross-linked and ‘hydrophilic,’ water loving polymers.

These substances do not dissolve in water, but are highly absorbent and capable of retaining well-defined structures. 

Although most hydrogels can be synthesized, there are some that are made from natural ingredients.

These nappies can be used in a variety of applications including soft robotics, contact lenses and tissue-repairing scaffolds. 

Hydrogels are three-dimensional networks of ‘hydrophilic’ (water loving) polymers that swell in water and can contain a large amount of the fluid while maintaining their structure.   

Hydrogels are well-known for their resilience and ability to heal themselves. But, it has proved difficult to create hydrogels that will withstand compression and not get crushed.

Crosslinkers are used to create materials that have the desired mechanical properties. These crosslinkers involve joining two molecules through chemical bonds. Zehuan Huang, paper author, University of Cambridge synthetic polymer scientist, said, “In order for us to achieve this, we need to use crosslinkers.”

“We use reversed crosslinkers for soft, stretchy hydrogels. However, making hard and compressible hydrogels is challenging and it’s completely counterintuitive to design a material that has these properties.

The key to the super jelly lies in barrel-shaped molecules called cucurbiturils, which are crosslinking molecules that can hold two guest molecules in its cavity in a manner that the researchers compare to a handcuff.

They were able, through the selection of guest molecules that are more likely to be kept in these handcuffs than others, to ensure the network was tightly connected and allow it to resist significant compression.

Oren Scherman of the University of Cambridge, a paper author and polymer scientist, said that despite its 80 percent water content, it wouldn’t burst like water balloons. However, it keeps intact and can withstand enormous compressive forces.

“The properties of hydrogel seem at odds with one another.”

‘The way the hydrogel can withstand compression was surprising, it wasn’t like anything we’ve seen in hydrogels,’ added paper co-author Jade McCune.

“We also discovered that you could easily control the compressive force by changing the chemical composition of the guest molecules inside your handcuff.”

The 'glass-like hydrogel ' may look and feel like a squishy jelly, but when compressed it acts like shatterproof glass, its University of Cambridge developers said. Pictured: after being run over repeatedly by a car, the 'glass-like hydrogel' returned to its original shape

According to University of Cambridge researchers, although the “glass-like hydrogel” may appear and feel like jelly, when it is compressed it behaves like shatterproof glasses. The ‘glass-like’ hydrogel was reshaped after it had been repeatedly beaten by cars. 

According to the team, there was significant variation in material dynamics due to the addition of guest molecules. 

Professor Scherman stated that while hydrogels appear rubber-like, many people have worked for years to make them. However, this is just half the equation.

“We have reexamined the traditional polymer physics to create a new class material that covers the entire range of material properties, from rubber-like and glass-like. This completes the picture.”

Dr Huang added: ‘To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that glass-like hydrogels have been made. 

“We are not only adding something to the textbooks which is exciting but also opening up a whole new area in high-performance soft material research.” 

Nature Materials published the full results of this study.


All injuries, including cuts, tears, and even broken bones, will eventually heal.

Vrije Universiteit Brussels experts have developed a synthetic skin to replicate nature’s ability to repair itself, allowing robots with injuries to their bodies to heal.

The technology may also be further developed to allow Terminator-style killer robotics built for combat to fix the injuries they have sustained.

Soft robots have been a topic of research for some time.

The design is inspired by human soft tissue.

They are flexible and can be used in a variety of ways, including grabbing soft or delicate items in the food industry as well as minimally invasive surgeries.

These could be used to create prosthetics that look like real people.

The soft material can be damaged by sharp objects and excessive pressure.

The robot should be reassembled to prevent any damage.

VUB came up with a brand new rubber polymer which can be used to fix this kind of damage.

Bram Vanderborght, BruBotics VUB’s plastic researcher, stated that the results of this research open up many promising possibilities.

“Robots are lighter, safer and can work more independently than ever before without needing constant repair.

Scientists used jelly-like, polymers to create synthetic flesh. They heat and cool them together.

These materials are able to recover their original form and heal fully after being damaged.

Three self-healing robot components were created to apply this principle: a gripper and a hand robotically, as well as an artificial muscle.

The resilient pneumatic components were tested under controlled conditions in order to verify that the science principle is also applicable in real life.