Recent research has shown that a new class of mechanical sensor, assembled from biomolecules and which features an
artificial cell membrane as the sensing element, can be used to mimic basic hair cell mechanotransduction in vertebrates.
The work presented in this paper is motivated by the need to increase sensor performance and stability by refining the
methods used to fabricate and connect lipid-encapsulated hydrogels. Inspired by superficial neuromasts found on fish,
three hydrogel materials are compared for their ability to be readily shaped into neuromast-inspired geometries and
enable lipid bilayer formation using self-assembly at an oil/water interface. Agarose, polyethylene glycol (PEG,
6kg/mole), and hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA) gel materials are compared. The results of this initial study
determined that UV-curable gel materials such as PEG and HEMA enable more accurate shaping of the gel-needed for
developing a sensor that uses a gel material both for mechanical support and membrane formation-compared to
agarose. However, the lower hydrophobicity of agarose and PEG materials provide a more fluid, water-like environment
for membrane formation-unlike HEMA. In working toward a neuromast-inspired design, a final experiment demonstrates that a bilayer can also be formed directly between two lipid-covered PEG surfaces. These initial results suggest that candidate gel materials with a low hydrophobicity, high fluidity, and a low modulus can be used to provide membrane support.