Yarn muscles made from carbon developed

16 November 2012
By David Spencer
Mobile version
Share |
Yarn muscle

Yarn muscle

The development of artificial muscles, made from twisted strands of carbon yarn, could power the limbs of super-strong robots in the future.

The twisted strands of carbon yarn can pull more than 100,000 times their own weight as tests demonstrate over 200 times the lifting-load capacities of natural muscles.

Scientists state the material, which can be woven into fabric, has multiple potential applications.

Alongside giving robots strength, these carbon-muscles could be used to operate valves and other engineering systems, or be incorporated into "smart" clothing that reacts to its environment as acting motors.

For technical reasons, they are unsuitable for replacing lost or damaged muscle in the human body.

The muscles are made from carbon nanotubes, hollow strands of carbon 10,000 times thinner than human hair yet 100 times stronger than steel.

The yarn is soaked in wax then shaped into a coiled structure. When heated by electricity or light the wax will expand to cause the yarn to contract and twist. This process is reversed when the heated ceases and the yarn cools. Like a rubber band in toy aeroplanes, the yarn can also power a spinning motor.

Professor Ray Baughman at the University of Texas at Dallas said: "The artificial muscles that we've developed can provide large, ultrafast contractions to lift weights that are 200 times heavier than possible for a natural muscle of the same size."

Prof Baughman prioritised their simplicity as effective for high performance: “These yarn muscles could be used for such diverse applications as robots, catheters for minimally invasive surgery, micromotors, mixers for microfluidic circuits, tunable optical systems, microvalves, positioners and even toys."

Results of tests of the artificial muscle appear today in the journal Science. They showed that muscle contraction occurred incredibly fast, taking just 25 thousandths of a second.

The power-to-weight ratio demonstrates the muscles are also four times more efficient than an internal combustion engine. They were also capable of operating at temperatures over 1,000°C, a heat higher than steel’s melting point.

Prof Baughman has said that the application might be incorporated into a “smart” suit for fire-fighters. The clothing material would be designed to react to dangerous temperatures to provide extra protection when needed, due to the intelligence of the material functionality, which Prof Baughman said was “very important”.

He added: "The remarkable performance of our yarn muscle and our present ability to fabricate kilometre-length yarns suggest the feasibility of early commercialisation as small actuators comprising centimetre-scale yarn length."

The difficulty is in “upscaling” the single-yarn actuators to larger actuators where hundreds or thousands of individual yarn muscles operate in parallel.

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1606

"Where would Frankenstein and his creative mind fit into today's workplace? Should we fear technological developments or embrace them?"

E&T jobs

  • Graduate Electrical Engineers

    • United Kingdom and Ireland
    • Competitive

    Due to the diverse nature of our business there are many different teams each with very different responsibilities.

    • Recruiter: AECOM

    Apply for this job

  • Network Innovation Engineer / Analyst - UK Power Sector

    Premium job

    Nortech Management Ltd
    • Birmingham, West Midlands or Pershore (Worcestershire)
    • £30,000 - £35,000 (depending on experience) + benefits

    Network Innovation Engineer / Analyst to join a team of talented technology enthusiasts who design and support the low carbon networks of the future.

    • Recruiter: Nortech Management Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Engineer with Strong telecoms background

    Premium job

    Sure South Atlantic Ltd
    • Falkland Islands

    Sure South Atlantic Ltd currently has a unique engineering opportunity in their Falkland Islands office. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, teeming ...

    • Recruiter: Sure South Atlantic Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Cyber, Communication, Information and Data Scientist roles

    Premium job

    • Porton Down, Salisbury
    • Competitive salaries

    Information is everything. Use it to serve your country and help keep us safe.

    • Recruiter: Dstl

    Apply for this job

  • Production Engineer

    Premium job

    Compact Engineering
    • Thirsk / Leeds / Banbury / Colchester / Cambridge
    • Salary will be competitive and commensurate with experience, knowledge, aptitude and capability

    A Production Engineer with some knowledge and understanding of radiant energy transfer.

    • Recruiter: Compact Engineering

    Apply for this job

  • Electronics Engineer

    Premium job

    Nikon Metrology Europe
    • Tring, Hertfordshire

    Nikon Metrology is looking for an Electronics Engineer to join our Electronics Team based in Tring (UK).

    • Recruiter: Nikon Metrology Europe

    Apply for this job

  • Senior Development Engineer, Electronics

    Premium job

    Helmet Integrated Systems / Gentex Corporation
    • Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
    • Competitive

    We are an innovative, robust and fast growing business, whose main focus is to deliver continues improvement to existing products and offer new sol..

    • Recruiter: Helmet Integrated Systems / Gentex Corporation

    Apply for this job

  • Engineering Manager

    BAE Systems
    • Hampshire, England, Portsmouth
    • Competitive package

    Would you like to play a vital role in managing and implementing the correct governance in order to enable BAE Systems to provide assurance and integrity of supply chain data? We currently have a vacancy for an Engineering Manager - Product Integrity

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Engineering Project Manager - Electrical & Automation

    • York, North Yorkshire
    • c£45,000 + Car Allowance + Bonus + Excellent Benefits

    Nestlé Product Technology Centre in York currently has an excellent opportunity for an Engineering Project Manager

    • Recruiter: Nestle

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer - Test

    BAE Systems
    • Farnborough, Hampshire, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer - Test Would you like to be a lead within an exciting team working on one of the UK's largest defence projects? We currently have a vacancy for a Consultant Engineer - Test at our site in Ash Vale. As a Consultant Engineer - Test, you

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶


Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T