New gel could sweeten drug delivery

When you slurp on your favorite sweet gelatin treat at a holiday party this season (with, or without floating pineapple chunks), think about how that gel you're eating is a liquid rendered solid by, according to AAAS Science Now, "a more or less rigid but disordered network of microscopic particles dispersed throughout its volume."

Now, Science Now reports, many gels are made by "phase separating" a liquid suspension, or cooling it down until it splits into two components. The more dense one is the gel. But it is difficult to get your gel recipe just right using this technique. Density become unpredictable. Fortunately, physicist Barbara Ruzicka, of the University of Rome was rooting around in her lab or pantry one day and found that the synthetic clay Laponite, which is used as a thickener in many household products, can form a stable gel.

The researchers suspended Laponite in water zapped it with powerful x-ray beams to study how the structure of the suspension changes over time and how this evolution depends on the amount of clay present. So, what does this mean? These gels could make for improved drug delivery systems or other microsopic devices, Science Now reports.

- read the report in Science Now