Can Hydrogel Crystals be used as a Drug Delivery System?

based on 7 ratings
Author: Michael Calhoun

Life science 

Grade Level
Middle School (Grades 6, 7 & 8)  
Difficulty of Project

$18.00 - Excluding the cost of the Tri-fold cardboard display board 

Safety Issues

Investigator should not ingest the crystals or drink the liquids associated with the activity. The crystals used in the project are extremely slippery when spilled. Never flush or pour these crystals down the drain, crystal swelling could possibly clog drainpipes. Leave to brew overnight. Also, care should be exercised when handling the hot water and the hot tea brew that will be used in this project. 

The supervising adult should discuss the warnings and safety information with the child or children before commencing the activity. 

Material Availability

The materials required for this project are readily available and inexpensive. 

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

1½ hours to complete the activity once the materials are secured and setup. Also between 1 and 2 hours to prepare the Tri-fold board display. 


A drug delivery system is a medium or carrier of drugs and medicines to where they are needed in a patient's body. Medical researchers are currently exploring if it is possible to use hydrogel crystals as possible delivery systems. The research aspect of this science fair project is to determine which of two chemical agents can be used to release the drug (tea) from hydrogel crystals.

This science fair project focuses on a special kind of polymer called a hydrogel superabsorbent crystal which absorbs water, swelling to many times its original size. In addition to water these crystals will be tested to see if they will absorb a strong tea solution, if they are able to absorb the tea the crystals will be treated with both a salt and sugar solution to see which of the two will allow the crystals to retain the tea and which will cause the tea to be released.
These crystals act as a model of a drug delivery system. The drug is first loaded onto the carrier and then it is released at a specific time and location. The tea represents the drug and the hydrogel crystal is the carrier. The salt and sugar solutions represent possible releasing agents that will be investigated in this project. From the observations made a dataset will be produced. 

Materials and Equipment / Ingredients

Hydrogel superabsorbent crystals, several tea bags, a bag of 8 oz clear plastic cups, table sugar, table salt, sieve (the plastic ones used for sifting flour), distilled water, plastic table spoons, tea pot, measuring cup, and paper towels. With the possible exception of the crystals, all the other items can be purchased from the local supermarket and garden supply store. Also, a Tri-fold cardboard display board can be purchased from an art & crafts supply store.

The hydrogel crystals can be purchased either locally from a garden supply store or online. Fortunately the price has been coming down. Science in A Bag charges $10 plus free shipping for a pack of these crystals. They also may be ordered from, or Nasco Science.

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