Walking Gel Caterpillar Like The Blob!

A walking gel created by (mad?) scientists at Japan's Waseda University is able to move along like a caterpillar or inchworm. Take a look at this scientific video:

I hope you'll excuse the exclamation point in my title, but you're always supposed to used them whenever mentioning The Blob!

You see, Fifties moviegoers needed the extra excitement of an exclamation point, even when faced with an intrinsically scary scenario such as a mysterious gel that can move on its own, however nonsensical and unlikely such a scenario might be. Take a look at this video clip:

And now, well-meaning researcher Shingo Maeda and his colleagues have made use of an oscillating chemical reaction called the Belousov–Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. The motile gel caterpillar consists of combined polymers that change in size depending on their chemical environment.

Polymers used in the gel shrink and grow in response to ruthenium bipyridine ions, alternately losing and gaining electrons in the cyclical reaction. That effect has been known for some time, but hasn't been used to make a self-locomoting material on such a scale before, says Maeda.

"In previous work, the displacement of the mechanical oscillation of the gel was very small in comparison with the gel size," he told New Scientist.

Maeda and colleagues created a gel that magnifies the small changes in size by building tension into it. That produces its curved shape as well as amplifying the material's response to the oscillating reaction inside itself.

If the exclamation point has done its work, you're no doubt hoping that one aspect of The Blob! that still eludes scientists is the creation of an intelligent motile gel.

Sorry to disappoint you.

It turns out that scientists at University of the West of England in Bristol, UK, have created a dish of chemicals that use the BZ effect.

Its "thoughts" are waves of ions that form spontaneously and diffuse through the mix. And occasionally, when things get too sluggish, the brain instructs a robotic hand to dip its fingers into the dish and wiggle them about, literally stirring the creative juices.

Well - at least we don't have to put exclamation points on phrases like "gel caterpillar" or "BZ polymer inchworm".

Yet.

Read more at Chemical 'caterpillar' and Introducing the glooper computer (subscription required).

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/29/2009)

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