Last week we shared the latest discovery by Scientists at Stanford University, the new stretchy polymer capable of healing itself when punctured and twitching like real muscles. This week, we look at the second part of this discovery, the potential uses for this amazing polymer film.
The research is published in the journal Nature Chemistry, where the researchers explain how they made this super-stretchy substance. They also showed that they could make this new elastomer twitch by exposing it to an electric field, causing it to expand and contract, making it potentially useful as an artificial muscle.
Artificial muscle and skin?
The team found that they could tune the polymer to be stretchier or heal faster by varying the amount or type of metal ion included. The version that exceeded the measuring machine’s limits, for example, was created by decreasing the ratio of iron atoms to the polymers and organic molecules in the material.
The researchers also showed that this new polymer with the metal additives would twitch in response to an electric field. They have to do more work to increase the degree to which the material expands and contracts and control it more precisely. But this observation opens the door to promising applications.
More Potential Uses
In addition to its long-term potential for use as artificial muscle, this research dovetails with Bao’s efforts to create artificial skin that might be used to restore some sensory capabilities to people with prosthetic limbs. In previous studies her team has created flexible but fragile polymers, studded with pressure sensors to detect the difference between a handshake and a butterfly landing. This new, durable material could form part of the physical structure of a fully developed artificial skin.
“Artificial skin is not just made of one material,” says Franziska Lissel, a postdoctoral fellow in Bao’s lab and member of the research team. “We want to create a very complex system.”
Even before artificial muscle and artificial skin become practical, this work in the development of strong, flexible, electronically active polymers could spawn a new generation of wearable electronics, or medical implants that would last a long time without being repaired or replaced.
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Samsung Electronics, and the Major State Basic Research Development Program of China supported the work at Stanford. Other members of the research team are from University of California, Riverside and University of Colorado, Boulder.
Image: “King of Hearts” Hoover Tower Stanford January 2013 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0