Materials scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas, lead by Ray Baughman and others, have discovered a method of creating powerful synthetic muscle fibers using simple fishing line.
A Simple Process
After extensive experimentation with carbon nanotube wires, the scientific team wondered what would happen if they applied the same processes to more common, less expensive materials. Utilizing electric motors to twist polyethylene and nylon fishing lines repeatedly, along with small weights to hold them straight, they found that the lines would coil up into secondary structures. The resulting larger fibers, when heat treated to hold them in their new shape, form a type of artificial “muscles” that is capable of lifting loads 100 times heavier than human muscles of equal length and weight.
When heat is applied to the tightly coiled plastic fibers, the individual lines try to untwist, expanding in volume but shortening in length. This causes them to contract on their lengthwise axis, just as real muscles do. Polyethylene and nylon also contract lengthwise somewhat, making the materials even more effective.
Depending on the application of heat, the fibers either contracted by approximately 49 percent or expanded by 67 percent. Ultimately, they can produce as much as 7.1 horsepower per kilogram—roughly the power equivalent of a modern jet engine.
These newly-created synthetic muscles have almost unlimited potential. “Despite their small diameter, the fibers can be indefinitely long and used in large structures,” said scientists from the University of Bordeaux.
This invention could be used in the construction of stronger, more advanced prosthetic limbs and medical equipment, in the development of Iron Man-style exoskeletons, to give human-like robots more realistic facial expressions, in the production of weather adaptive clothing, and in countless other applications. Varying thermal qualities could make different materials uniquely suited to specific uses.
Incredibly Easy & Cost-Effective
Perhaps the most incredible aspect of this discovery are the low cost of the materials and the ease of the process itself. Most of the materials are readily available, often for as little as $5 per kilogram. And the process itself is so simple that one could literally do it in the garage, with very basic equipment.
Baughman predicts that the UT-Dallas team’s discovery will find practical application in a very short time, as little as two years. “Usually with a technical advance it takes 20 years. But there’s no barrier to making these muscles.”
- “Texas Scientists Create Incredibly Strong Artificial Muscles from Fishing Line” http://blog.chron.com/sciguy/2014/02/texas-scientists-create-incredibly-strong-artificial-muscles-from-fishing-line/
- “Researchers Create Super-Strong Artificial Muscles from Twisted Fishing Line” http://www.geek.com/science/researchers-create-super-strong-artificial-muscles-from-twisted-fishing-line-1585551/
- “Scientists Make Artificial Muscles Out of Fishing Line and Thread” http://www.sciencerecorder.com/news/scientists-make-artificial-muscles-out-of-fishing-line-and-thread/