Recent theoretical and experimental work on the radiation synthesis, characterization and the use of hydrogels containing diprotic acid moieties have been reviewed. It is shown that upon incorporating vinyl monomers carrying diprotic acid groups randomly in the main chain, non-ionic hydrogels like poly(acryl amide) and poly(n-vinyl 2-pyrrolidone) acquired stimuli-responsive behaviours. The swelling behaviours of these hydrogels are shown to be predictable reliably under varying solution conditions by a theoretical expression derived recently. Examples are given for the utilization of these hydrogels in the adsorption and separation of biomolecules, dyes and metal ions in aqueous media and their ability to release drugs in stepwise manner in response to pH of the environment. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.