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March 19, 2009

Creating artificial muscles

Posted: 03:01 PM ET

What can operate in temperatures above the melting point of iron (1,538 degrees Celsius) and below the temperature of liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees Celsius)?

A sheet strip of carbon nanotube aerogel: The muscles of the future? Courtesy University of Texas

Answer: Artificial muscles made up of carbon nanotubes.

I'm sure that was the first thing that came to mind, right?

This is the latest innovation coming out of the field of carbon nanotechnology.

The application of these microscopic carbon tube structures has piqued the interest of many engineers and scientists in recent years. Individual carbon nanotubes can measure in at roughly 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, don't let their size fool you.

They can be as stiff as steel and can have very high thermal and electrical conductivities. But getting them to work in tandem with each other has been a challenge for scientists.

Using a material called aerogel (a type of gel in which the liquid portion has been replaced with gas to create a low-density solid), researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas' Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute have found a way to make carbon nanotubes work together in extreme temperatures - such as those found in space. Their findings will be published in this week's Science journal.

These carbon nanotube sheets or aerogels have properties unlike any other raw material. Individual carbon nanotubes have been woven together to make interconnected bundles that collectively give the sheet its unique properties. By injecting charges into the carbon nanotube sheet, scientists create repulsion between the individual nanotubes, causing the material to contract.

Artificial muscles have similarities to human muscles but are usually electroactive polymers whose shape can be modified when voltage is applied. These artificial muscles are capable of providing 30 times the force and contracting 1,000 times faster than human skeletal muscles.

"My guess is that this story will have a happy ending in terms of new products that benefit humankind," said Dr. Ray Baughman, director of the NanoTech Institute.

The applications of these artificial muscles stretches far beyond the walls of the lab. You can expect to see them at work someday in medical devices, fuel cells, aerospace and even robots.

- Azadeh Ansari,

Filed under: technology

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Franko   March 19th, 2009 4:32 pm ET

How soon, before Olympic athletes,
and Professional wrestlers enhamce their abilities ?
Perhaps, a humanoid shoveling more dirt, than a bulldozer can push ?

wally from lakewood   March 19th, 2009 5:50 pm ET

Does this research receive federal funding?

Knight   March 20th, 2009 8:43 am ET

That all depends. It's really a matter of asking how long before the technology is viable for use under standard temperature and pressure. Not to mention the cost effectiveness of it. I'm not sure professional wrestling pays well enough to have your muscles replaced by artificial materials.

Munkey   March 20th, 2009 11:39 am ET

I gotta get me some of these!

Justin   March 20th, 2009 1:55 pm ET

What would be great, is to see this type of nano-technology put to use in repairing damaged muscles in humans. Say for instance a replacement heart that will outlast the rest of the human body.

Kelly   March 20th, 2009 3:49 pm ET

You can bet that before mankind gets the real benefit, mankind will be destroying mankind with it. Sorry, I know that's cynical, but don't you think military applications such as nano suits would take a higher priority?

If that kind of technology filters into Joe Average's hands, doesn't that make Joe a dangerous guy? Personally, if I had even arms and legs that gave me 30 times human strength and 1000 times reflexes I'd be pretty darn powerful. In my opinion, that means they have to spread the technology around to everyone so we're all on the same level again. Time will tell. Nanotechnolgy has the potential to change us for the better or destroy us in the process.

Franky   March 21st, 2009 10:34 am ET

Please guys, if you wanna experiment artificial muscles, then get your lazy off that bed and experiment in yours. You got your deltoids, triceps or even biceps, be a man!! Work out on those muscles, believe it or not, we hear around the country that because of my boy, people are trying to exercise more, especially the ladies.

Work out dude, don't let a scientist help you achieve it, be a man and do it yourself. I'll give you pointers if you want and trust me, it ain't as hard as you think...

Jay   March 21st, 2009 6:18 pm ET

The potential of this technology is in no way comparable to a session at your local gym. While going to the gym will, in fact, increase your physical strength, metabolism, and overall longevity of life, no amount of exercise can amount to the capabilities of this type of technology. These artificial muscles can be used to explore areas of extreme pressure and heat, something that our organic muscles could never withstand.

So instead of focusing on the stereotypes associated with scientists (ie. that they're lazy and unfit) take some time to think about how this technology could be used to further mankind (rather than your own physic).

Justin   March 21st, 2009 9:47 pm ET

I don't think they are to the point yet, where they could be used as internal muscles.

Franky, the human body can only do so much, regardless of how big and strong the body is.

This technology is too new to determine applications for it yet. But the possibilities are endless. Think of a kid with muscular dystrophy, that lacks the ability to use certain muscles, they use this technology in an external application and poof ya got yourself a kid that's probably going to be stronger than most body builders.

Christopher Smith   March 22nd, 2009 10:29 pm ET

YESH! One more step to awesome killer cyborgs!

I want rockets to come out of my eyeballs!

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