A squishy Rubik's Cube that chemists built from polymers holds promise for data storage
Phys.org - Tue 13 Aug 18:46 GMT

A team of chemists from the U.S. and China have constructed a cube of colored, hydrogel blocks, which looks and acts much like a Rubik's Cube. The researchers say their work is more than just fun to play with: it might inspire new ways to store and detect inf…

  A new Rubik's Cube-like structure made of a self-healing hydrogel might inspire new ways to store information and possibly help patients monitor their medical conditions.

  But unlike the rigid plastic of a Rubik's Cube, this new structure is made of a self-healing hydrogel, a squishy polymer material that can absorb large amounts of water and form new chemical bonds when old bonds break.

  Mathematicians estimate that there are roughly 43 quintillion—that's 43 times 10 to 18th power—unique configurations of a Rubik's Cube, suggesting one cube could store a vast amount of information.

  VIDEO Credit: University of Texas at Austin The 27 building blocks in the cube were colored using a revolutionary new class of fluorescent dots invented by Ben Zhong Tang, a chemist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the project was led by Xiaofan Ji, a former postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin, now working in Tang's lab.

  One of the challenges with making the new squishy Rubik's Cube was to make the bonds weak enough that rows could be easily rotated by hand, yet strong enough for the whole structure to retain its shape.

  In the 1980s, in the days before solutions to all of life's problems were just a quick Internet search away, Sessler used mathematics to find different series of rotations that could be used to rearrange color patterns on a Rubik's Cube in a controlled way.

  "Now," said Sessler, "with this new Rubik's Cube, all we have to do is pull it apart and stick the blocks back together where we want.