Scientists Create Cheap Artificial Muscle From Fishing Line, Thread

Friday, 21 Feb 2014 02:58 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Scientists have discovered that by twisting sewing thread and fishing line into a coil, they can make artificial muscle that is 100 times stronger than any human or animal sinew to be used in prosthetic limbs, robots, medical implants, and more.

The experiments from the University of Texas at Dallas haven't created the first artificial muscle on the market, reports The Los Angeles Times. But most artificial muscle is often expensive or stores low amounts of energy, the journal Science reports.

"Extreme twisting produces coiled muscles that can contract by 49%, lift loads over 100 times heavier than can human muscle of the same length and weight, and generate 5.3 kilowatts of mechanical work per kilogram of muscle weight, similar to that produced by a jet engine," Science reported.

Story continues below video.



The new polymer fibers are made of cheap materials that cost only about $5 per kilogram. For the experiment, scientists took fibers that were a few hundred micrometers long and twisted them until they coiled. As the cable coiled, it became stronger, and researchers blew heat on it with a heat gun to set the coil.

By applying heat to the coils, the scientists found they could make versions of the artificial muscle fibers contract by 49 percent or expand by 67 percent, reports The Times.

The fibers can go through millions of expand-contract cycles, making them reusable and durable.

“Despite their small diameter, the fibers can be indefinitely long and used in large structures,” Jinkai Yuan and Philippe Poulin, scientists from the University of Bordeaux in France who were not involved in the paper, wrote in a commentary for Science.

The artificial fibers can also be used to give humanoid robots more human-like faces or automatically open and shut a home's blinds in response to outside climate.

The researchers have also created a cloth material that could be used for breathable clothing, as it has pores that expand and contract in response to heat.

"The application opportunities for these polymer muscles are vast,” Dr. Ray Baughman, the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry at UT Dallas and director of the NanoTech Institute, told Science Recorder.

“Today’s most advanced humanoid robots, prosthetic limbs and wearable exoskeletons are limited by motors and hydraulic systems, whose size and weight restrict dexterity, force generation and work capability.”

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