The Loh Down On Science

Cheap, strong artificial muscles may just be a few household ingredients away

University of Texas at Dallas

Researchers created artificial muscles by twisting and coiling ordinary fishing line. Applying heat causes them to contract like human muscles.

A little fishing line, a little sewing thread, et voila:  muscles! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

Well, maybe not so easy as that. 

Ask Ray Baughman of the University of Texas at Dallas.  He and colleagues have teamed up to make artificial muscles from these common materials. 

Polyethylene and nylon fibers – which are used to make fishing line and sewing thread – are super cheap. 

Baughman’s team twisted and coiled nylon fibers into cords and braids.  All twisted up, the cords can store a lot of potential energy.  Kind of like a rubberband airplane.  Turning and turning the propeller of a toy plane twists the rubberband around the propeller tighter and tighter.  That’s stored potential energy.  Let it go, and zoom!  Rubberband muscle power!

But for nylon muscles, add a little bit of heat and the cords bounce.  That’s a lot like our muscle fibers contracting and relaxing with nerve impulses.  Only nylon muscles are a hundred times stronger.  

Artificial muscles could someday make robots work, open windows, and more!

Could they open stuck jars and carry up the laundry?  I'll take two!

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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