Pollen transformed into a soft and flexible material that could form the basis for new categories of environmentally friendly materials: this is what some scientists of the Nanyang University of Technology in Singapore (NTU) have announced. Pollen is, among other things, one of the hardest materials in the plant kingdom.
The study, published in Nature Communications, describes how the researchers used a method that can be compared to the chemical process for making soap. The researchers used pollen grains taken from sunflowers and other plants to transform it into micro-gel particles that can respond to various stimuli. Through 3D printing, for example, these particles can then be transformed into many materials, especially polymer gels but also spongy materials or similar sheets of paper.
Furthermore, the fact that these particles derive from pollen, i.e. from a plant-based structure, means that the derived materials are biocompatible and cause less immunological, allergic or toxic reaction if these materials are exposed to the body. This means that the derived material could also be used in the medical field as well as in that of prostheses.
Scientists have succeeded in this by altering the structure of the pollen wall and causing swelling of the pollen particles, bringing to the maximum efficiency a process that is moreover natural and that occurs during the harmony, a phenomenon that sees the folding of the grain of pollen to prevent water loss, or during germination.
“Our NTU research team has transformed the hard pollen grains beyond their natural performance limits and converted them into soft microgel particles that alter their properties in response to external stimuli. This is promising for a wide range of applications that are environmentally sustainable, cost-effective and virtually scalable, ”says NTU professor Subra Suresh.