Scientists create strong artificial muscles from fishing line

Twisted fishing line could one day power realistic robots and prosthetic limbs, according to a new study.

An international team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas found that common nylon materials like fishing line and sewing thread can be converted into super strong artificial muscles that are controlled by heat.

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These man-made muscles are 100 times more powerful than human muscles of the same length and weight, scientists said. They are also flexible, lightweight and inexpensive.

The UT Dallas scientists made coils in different widths from everyday materials.

University of Texas at Dallas

The UT Dallas scientists made coils in different widths from everyday materials.

“The application opportunities for these polymer muscles are vast,” corresponding author Dr. Ray Baughman of UT Dallas said in a statement.

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For example, they could be used to create humanoid robots, wearable exoskeletons and artificial limbs. The technique could even be applied to make clothes that adjust based on the temperature.

There are also smaller scale possibilities, researchers said. The coils can have diameters that are less than that of a strand of human hair, so they could control facial expressions in more realistic robots.

The coils contract when they are heated and expand when they are cooled down.

Science/AAAS

The coils contract when they are heated and expand when they are cooled down.

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Scientists made the muscles by twisting the thread a certain way. These tightly wound coils will then react when they are heated and cooled.

Baughman explained to Popular Mechanics that it works like a “Chinese finger-trap,” which is a gag toy many adults may have played with as kids. When users try to pull their fingers out, the trap is shortened.

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The international team was led by Dr. Ray Baughman (left). It also included Dr. Márcio Lima (center) and doctoral student Carter Haines (right).

University of Texas at Dallas

The international team was led by Dr. Ray Baughman (left). It also included Dr. Márcio Lima (center) and doctoral student Carter Haines (right).

The same thing happens when the heat is applied to the coil, Baughman said. The plastic string tries to unravel, but it ends up compressing and getting shorter and fatter.

When the coils are cooled, they lengthen again.

If 100 of these coils were arranged in a way that mirrors the configuration of human muscles, they could lift about 1,600 pounds, Baughman said.

Not only are they cheap to make, they are also easy to produce.

“The coiling process is actually quite trivial. We’re getting high school students to do it—you just have to pay attention to how much tension and weight you apply to the thread you’re twisting,” Baughman told Popular Mechanics.

The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.

vtaylor@nydailynews.com

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