Letter | Published:

Nanoparticle solutions as adhesives for gels and biological tissues

Nature volume 505, pages 382385 (16 January 2014) | Download Citation


Adhesives are made of polymers1 because, unlike other materials, polymers ensure good contact between surfaces by covering asperities, and retard the fracture of adhesive joints by dissipating energy under stress2,3. But using polymers to ‘glue’ together polymer gels is difficult, requiring chemical reactions, heating, pH changes, ultraviolet irradiation or an electric field4,5,6,7. Here we show that strong, rapid adhesion between two hydrogels can be achieved at room temperature by spreading a droplet of a nanoparticle solution on one gel’s surface and then bringing the other gel into contact with it. The method relies on the nanoparticles’ ability to adsorb onto polymer gels and to act as connectors between polymer chains, and on the ability of polymer chains to reorganize and dissipate energy under stress when adsorbed onto nanoparticles. We demonstrate this approach by pressing together pieces of hydrogels, for approximately 30 seconds, that have the same or different chemical properties or rigidities, using various solutions of silica nanoparticles, to achieve a strong bond. Furthermore, we show that carbon nanotubes and cellulose nanocrystals that do not bond hydrogels together become adhesive when their surface chemistry is modified. To illustrate the promise of the method for biological tissues, we also glued together two cut pieces of calf’s liver using a solution of silica nanoparticles. As a rapid, simple and efficient way to assemble gels or tissues, this method is desirable for many emerging technological and medical applications such as microfluidics, actuation, tissue engineering and surgery.

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We thank D. Montero and L. Olanier for technical assistance with electron microscopy and tensile test equipment, respectively. We also thank L. Alison and L. Nègre for help with experiments and A. Legrand for synthesis of silica AL-30 particles. We thank A. Johner for discussions on adsorption and M. Cloitre, J. Lewiner, A. Maggs, R. Nicolaÿ and F. Tournilhac for encouragements and discussions. S.R. and A.P. acknowledge PhD fellowship funding from ED397, UPMC, Paris France. The financial support of the CNRS, the ESPCI and the UPMC is acknowledged.

Author information


  1. Physico-chimie des Polymères et Milieux Dispersés (UMR7615 UPMC/ESPCI/CNRS), Université Pierre et Marie Curie, École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie industrielles, 75005 Paris, France

    • Séverine Rose
    • , Paul Elzière
    • , Dominique Hourdet
    •  & Alba Marcellan
  2. Matière Molle et Chimie (UMR 7167 CNRS/ESPCI), École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, 75005 Paris, France

    • Alexandre Prevoteau
    • , Alba Marcellan
    •  & Ludwik Leibler


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S.R. synthesized samples, designed and performed experiments, analysed data and discussed results, A.P. synthesized carbon nanotube and CNT-Thy samples and performed experiments, P.E. performed experiments and analysed data, D.H. advised on gel synthesis, A.M. conceived the project, designed and performed experiments, analysed and discussed results and wrote the manuscript, L.L. initiated and conceived the project, designed and performed experiments, interpreted results, and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alba Marcellan or Ludwik Leibler.

Extended data

Supplementary information


  1. 1.

    Lap-shear test of adhesion for a PDMA S0.1 hydrogel assembly glued with TM-50 silica solution

    Failure by fracture occurs outside the junctions

  2. 2.

    Lap-shear test of adhesion for a PDMA S0.1 hydrogel swollen in water to maximum swelling degree Qe

    The PDMA S0.1/S0.1 lap joint glued with TM-50 silica solution at as-synthesized conditions, immersed in water for two days to reach swelling equilibrium fails by interfacial peeling.

  3. 3.

    Lap-shear test of adhesion of calf liver ribbons glued with TM-50 silica solution

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