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January 11, 2013

New Polymer May Be Used For Robot Muscles

MIT polymer used for artificial muscle

 Artificial Muscle
MIT researchers at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research have developed a new material that changes its shape after absorbing water vapor. The film could be used in artificial muscle and to power micro- and nanoelectronic devices.
Researchers at MIT polymer film is expanding and contracting like a muscle, and looks pretty alive doing it, but the energy is coming from water vapor, not black magic. 

The research engineers hope to use the material's continuous motion to generate electricity for nanoelectronic devices, like tiny sensors, or as muscles in robots.
The material is made of two interlocking polymers. One lends structure, while the other swells like a sponge as it absorbs water. In a humid environment, water droplets on a surface under the material cause the film to begin curling. As it moves, air dries the film making it stretch and flip, which exposes it to the moist surface again.

“With a sensor powered by a battery, you have to replace it periodically. If you have this device, you can harvest energy from the environment so you don't have to replace it very often,” says Mingming Ma, a postdoc at MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and lead author of a paper describing the new material in the Jan. 11 issue of Science.

polymer used for artificial muscle

Drawing power from humidity is advantageous because water vapor is ubiquitous and relatively easy to control in most environments, at least compared to pH or temperature which have been used in similar experiments.
To generate electricity, the novel film would be combined with a special material that converts the mechanical energy in its movement to electric charge.
It's not a coincidence that the film was developed at MIT's Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. The material, which is very early in development, shows possibilities for biomedical work like targeted drug delivery or physiological monitoring.


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