Hydrogels are water-based gels that can be tailored to swell or shrink near specific molecules. When placed on the end of an optical fibre, the gel may function as a measuring instrument, because it recognizes and reacts to certain elements in the substance surrounding it.
A team of researchers at NTNU has described a way to make a hydrogel that recognizes specific sequences in nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA. The recognition causes the gel to change its thickness, which can be measured with a precision that is 100 times better than other techniques. This can be important in intensive care medicine, cardiac surgery and the treatment of diabetics and cancer patients.