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Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have designed a sustainable hydrogel to remove microplastics from water.

About Hydrogel

  • It is a three-dimensional network composed of hydrophobic polymers synthesized by crosslinking water-soluble polymers.
  • Hydrogels can retain a large quantity of water within their network without disturbing their original structure. This imparts flexibility and swelling properties to the hydrogel structures. 
  • It is a “smart” material that can change its structure in response to its environment, such as the local temperature, pH, salt or water concentration.

Key facts about the sustainable hydrogel

  • It is designed by the researchers has a unique intertwined polymer network that can bind the contaminants and degrade them using UV light irradiation.
  • It consists of three different polymer layers – chitosan, polyvinyl alcohol and polyaniline – intertwined together, making an interpenetrating polymer network (IPN) architecture.
  • The team infused this matrix with nanoclusters of a material called copper substitute polyoxometalate (Cu-POM). These nanoclusters are catalysts that can use UV light to degrade the micro plastics.
  • The combination of the polymers and nanoclusters resulted in a strong hydrogel with the ability to adsorb and degrade large amounts of microplastics.
  • The hydrogel was found to be highly efficient – it could remove about 95% and 93% of two different types of microplastics in water at near-neutral pH (∼6.5).

What is a Micro plastic?

  • It is tiny plastic debris smaller than 5 mm in length.
  • There are two types of microplastics as follows
    • Primary microplastics : These are tiny particles (solid plastic particles of less than one millimeter in their largest dimension) intentionally designed for commercial use, such as cosmetics, nurdles i.e., plastic pellets used in industrial manufacturing and fibers from synthetic fabrics such as nylon.
    • Secondary microplastics : These are formed from the degradation of large plastic objects such as bottles, fishing nets and plastic bags. It is caused by exposure to the environment, such as radiation from the sun, wind and ocean waves.

Q1: What is a polymer?

A polymer is any of a class of natural or synthetic substances composed of very large molecules, called macromolecules, which are multiples of simpler chemical units called monomers.

Source: IISc researchers design novel hydrogel to remove microplastics from water