A new artificial skin made of the key ingredient in jam can detect changes in temperature by a mechanism similar to that used by pit vipers to detect their prey.
If jam, artificial skin, and snakes seem like three concepts that should not be sharing a sentence, that is probably because the new material was the result of luck — and the combined work of engineers, biologists, and materials scientists, says Luca Bonanomi, a graduate student in the lab of mechanics and materials professor Chiara Daraio at the California Institute of Technology.
Raffaele Di Giacomo, a postdoc in the lab, and the other researchers were working to synthesize artificial wood by combining carbon nanotubes and undifferentiated plant cells when they discovered that the material they were making was extremely sensitive to temperature changes. Further investigation revealed that the substance behind this property was pectin, the polysaccharide plant molecule well-known to cooks for its role in firming up jellies and jams.
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