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A new material controlled by light may help scientists build better soft-bodied robots.

The developers of the gel say they were inspired by the way a plant grows to face the sunlight. Unlike plants, though, the gel can be made to flex and move almost instantaneously.

The UC Berkeley scientists created the gel using graphene and a synthetic protein similar to elastin, which is found in humans’ blood vessels, skin and more.

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The synthetic elastin, created from genetically engineered bacteria, absorbs water at room temperature, but at higher temperatures it expels the water and shrinks. [Read also: ” Soft Robots Make World Safer for Humans“]

Graphene produces heat when exposed to near-infrared light. Together, the two materials make a light-controlled gel, said professor Seung-Wuk Lee of UC Berkeley’s department of bioengineering. “The graphene is heated by the light, and then the elastin is responding to the heat induced by the light.”

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