From Bioinspired Design to Soft Electronics and Machines
Smart
HydroGEL
SYStems
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Research Topics

Our research is made possible through funding received from the European Research Council (ERC).

Our mission

Hydrogels evolved as versatile building blocks of life – we all are in essence gel-embodied soft machines. Drawing inspiration from the diversity found in living creatures, GEL-SYS will develop a set of concepts, materials approaches and design rules for wide ranging classes of soft, hydrogel-based electronic, ionic and photonic devices in three core aims.

Tough interfaces

Our project pursues a high level of complexity in soft, yet tough biomimetic devices and machines by introducing nature-inspired instant strong bonds between hydrogels and antagonistic materials – from soft and elastic to hard and brittle.

Gel electronics

Building on these newly developed interfaces, GEL-SYS will pursue biocompatible hydrogel electronics with iontronic transducers and large area multimodal sensor arrays for a new class of medical tools and health monitors.

Soft robotics

We will foster the current soft revolution of robotics with self-sensing, transparent grippers not occluding objects and workspace. A soft robotic visual system with hydrogel-based adaptive optical elements and ultraflexible photosensor arrays will allow robots to see while grasping. Autonomous operation will be a central question in soft systems, tackled with tough stretchable batteries and energy harvesting from mechanical motion on small and large scales with soft membranes.

A perfect match

GEL-SYS will use our experience on soft, “imperceptible” electronics and devices. By fusing this technology platform with tough hydrogels - nature’s most pluripotent ingredient of soft machines - we aim to create the next generation of bionic systems. The envisioned hybrids promise new discoveries in the nonlinear mechanical responses of soft systems, and may allow exploiting triggered elastic instabilities for unconventional locomotion. Exploring soft matter, intimately united with solid materials, will trigger novel concepts for medical equipment, healthcare, consumer electronics, energy harvesting from renewable sources and in robotics, with imminent impact on our society.

Timeline

  • May 2018

    Publication: Meant to merge - Fabrication of stretchy electronics for robotics
    (Science Robotics)

    With the next generation of squishy robots on the rise, advanced soft electronic skins could provide the ultimate touch.

  • July 2018

    Invited talk at International Conference on Flexible and Printed Electronics, Hangzhou

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • August 2018

    Publication: Direct writing of anodic oxides for plastic electronics
    (npj Flexible Electronics)

    A simple concept of scanning head-guided anodization is shown to be highly expandable to fabricate various electronic components.

  • September 2018

    Invited talk at Asilomar Bioelectronics Symposium, Pacific Grove

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • September 2018

    Publication: The importance of open and frugal labware
    (Nature Electronics)

    Expensive equipment is often considered a prerequisite for good science. But the development of technology that is affordable and accessible to many could help promote a greater diversity of scientific thinking.

  • October 2018

    Invited talk at Nature Conference on Flexible Electronics, Xi’an

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • November 2018

    Invited talk at MRS Fall Meeting, Boston

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • November 2018

    Invited talk at IPF Colloquium, Dresden

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • December 2018

    Publication: X-ray study of anisotropically shaped metal halide perovskite nanoparticles in tubular pores
    (Applied Physics Letters)

    We have shown that npAl films are effective templates for nanoparticle synthesis from a metal-halide perovskite precursor solution.

  • December 2018

    Invited talk at Microsoft, Seattle

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • May 2019

    Invited talk at E-MRS Spring, Nice

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • June 2019

    Invited talk at EUROSENSORS XXXIII, Berlin

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • June 2019

    Invited talk at International Conference on Materials for Advanced Technologies, Singapore

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • July 2019

    Invited talk at Leibniz-Institut für Neue Materialien gGmbH, Saarbrücken

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • July 2019

    Invited talk at International Conference on Flexible Electronics, Hangzhou

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • September 2019

    Invited talk at E-MRS Fall Meeting, Warsaw

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • September 2019

    Publication: A bimodal soft electronic skin for tactile and touchless interaction in real time
    (Nature Communications)

    Here, we realize bifunctional electronic skins equipped with a compliant magnetic microelectromechanical system able to transduce both tactile—via mechanical pressure—and touchless—via magnetic fields—stimulations simultaneously.

  • December 2019

    Invited talk at Materials Research Meeting, Yokohama

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • January 2020

    Invited talk at Gordon Research Conference on Robotics, Ventura

    Prof. Kaltenbrunner

  • January 2020

    Publication: A Lesson from Plants - High‐Speed Soft Robotic Actuators
    (Advanced Science)

    Mechanisms like snap‐buckling allow plants like the Venus flytrap to close the terminal lobes of their leaves at barely perceptible speed. Here, a soft balloon actuator is presented, which is inspired by such mechanical instabilities and creates safe, giant, and fast deformations.

  • April 2020

    Publication: Stretchable Polymerized High Internal Phase Emulsion Separators for High Performance Soft Batteries
    (Advanced Energy Materials)

    Batteries as energy source enable their untethered operation at high power density but must be rendered elastic to fully comply with (soft) robots and human beings. Here, polymerized high internal phase emulsions (polyHIPEs) are introduced as highly ionically conductive separators in stretchable (rechargeable) batteries.

  • May 2020

    Publication: Stretch-Safe - Magnetic Connectors for Modular Stretchable Electronics
    (Advanced Intelligent Systems)

    Wearable healthcare devices monitor the condition of patients outside the hospital and hence increase treatment capacity and resources. Herein, soft building blocks of mobile health (mHealth) devices that reversibly assemble through a magnetic click-on mechanism are introduced.

  • June 2020

    Publication: Resilient yet entirely degradable gelatin-based biogels for soft robots and electronics
    (Nature Materials)

    Biodegradable and biocompatible elastic materials for soft robotics, tissue engineering or stretchable electronics with good mechanical properties, tunability, modifiability or healing properties drive technological advance. We have developed a versatile gelatin-based biogel, which is highly resilient with outstanding elastic characteristics, yet degrades fully when disposed.

  • July 2020

    Publication: Soft electromagnetic actuators
    (Science Advances)

    Rigid electromagnetic actuators serve our society in a myriad of ways for more than 200 years. However, their bulky nature restricts close collaboration with humans. Here, we introduce soft electromagnetic actuators (SEMAs) by replacing solid metal coils with liquid-metal channels embedded in elastomeric shells.

  • More
    to
    come!

Team

Martin Kaltenbrunner

Martin Kaltenbrunner

Principal Investigator

Lives in Linz, Austria
Stepan Demchyshyn

Stepan Demchyshyn

PhD student

Robert Gerstmayer

Robert Gerstmayer

Master student

Florian Hartmann

Florian Hartmann

PhD student

Mahya Karamimosammam

Mahya Karamimosammam

PhD student

Bekele Teklemariam

Bekele Teklemariam

Post Doc

Michael Drack

Michael Drack

Post Doc (associated member)

Susanne Kimeswenger

Susanne Kimeswenger

Post Doc (associated member)

Guoyong Mao

Guoyong Mao

Post Doc (associated member)

Daniela Wirthl

Daniela Wirthl

Post Doc (associated member)