Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Swell Gels Get Smart under Foot

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Swell Gels Get Smart under Foot

Article excerpt

TWO OF THE aliens on "Third Rock from the Sun" had their first close encounter with an eloquently quivering Jell-O mold the other night and were transfixed.

"What does it want?" they asked. "What is it trying to tell us?"

Hah! Veteran earthlings know that, despite its frisky demeanor, gelatin is pretty unresponsive stuff.

But think again. Turns out gel technology has gone way beyond the old frontiers of Jell-O jigglers (what you get when you make Jell-O in shapes - snakes are good - with only half as much water as the box says so it's extra-wiggly).

The new frontier in gel technology is smart gels, gels that do more than sit on a plate and wiggle. It's all still very hush-hush, but sometime later this year, some of these smart gels will begin oozing into golf shoes made by Titleist/Foot-Joy where - this is the idea anyway - they'll be able to provide golfers' feet with a custom fit every time they put them on. Every time!

And suppose their feet start to swell on the back nine? Bingo: Smart ge ls adjust.

Old-fashioned, nonedible dumb gels are already in sneakers, where they absorb shock and cushion impact. Sometimes the sneakers even have little windows, so you can see the gel slurping around inside (because marketers discovered people wouldn't pay for gels they couldn't see. But the windows make it too expensive for most manufacturers to bother).

The other problem with dumb gels is constant viscosity - their degree of goopiness never changes. Walking on dumb-gel insoles - Sharper Image has them - is a little like walking on a water bed. The beauty of these spiffy new smart gels is that they can change from a near liquid to a near solid - and not just any time, but when you need them to.

Much of this is thanks to Toyoichi Tanaka, a professor of physics at MIT, who won the Inoue Science Award last year for 20 years of basic research on "phase transition, critical phenomena, kinetics, dynamics and transport properties of polymer gels. …

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