News
Bernie Goldie
16/11/2012

Small muscles to have big impact on smart clothing

Australian scientists are among a team to develop a new artificial muscle with exciting possibilities for use in self-powered intelligent textiles that could automatically react to environmental conditions like heat or sweat.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong are part of a team spread across four continents, to develop the new hybrid yarn muscle.

The hybrid yarn muscles are based on carbon nanotubes which are hollow cylinders just one carbon atom thick like the layers of graphite. On their own, carbon nanotubes are about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair but they can be 100 times stronger than steel.

Researchers combine the nanotubes with a wax material like household candles, the result being a single thread of yarn around 10 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, that can lift over 100,000 times its own weight and generate 85 times higher mechanical output that natural skeletal muscles.

“When heated, either electrically or with a flash of light, the wax in the yarn muscles expands, causing contraction of the nanotube yarn and generating a very large contraction,” according to ACES researcher Professor Geoff Spinks.

Unlike other artificial muscles, the hybrid yarn muscles are fully dry so actuation can be triggered from changes in environmental temperature or the presence of chemical agents, making them perfect for use as self-powered intelligent materials.

Using the advanced customised technology of the Australian National Fabrication Facility that is housed at ACES’ Wollongong NSW node, scientists can move to the next exciting step of weaving, sewing, braiding and knitting the hybrid yarn muscles.

“The yarns could be used to create intelligent fabrics that can open and close the porosity of the fabric to allow heat in or keep it out, or release moisture,” ACES researcher and fabrication expert Dr Javad Foroughi said, who has also just been awarded a three-year fellowship from the Australian Research Council to develop intelligent fabrics.

Other applications for the yarns could include robots, catheters, micro-motors, tuneable optical systems and even toys.

The research is published today (Friday 16 November) in Science.

UOW IN THE NEWS

This pen can 3D-print cells on...
Silicon Republic | 31 July
Saving sex with science ....
ABC Illawarra | 30 July
Graphene research promises b...
The Australian | 30 July
Wollongong science centre expa...
ABC Online | 29 July
Bionic ear inventor Graeme Clark...
Sydney Morning Herald | 26 July
Inspire Australia: Thinkable....
Sydney Morning Herald | 24 July
Abrupt climate warming, not c...
The Conversation | 24 July
Why do students study so far...
Times Higher Ed | 23 July
Brake on health spending a wo...
The Australian | 22 July
University policy blenders ...
The Australian | 22 July
Mick Fanning shark attack ...
ABC Online | 21 July
Aussies hungry for healthy...
Daily Telegraph | 21 July
The rise of urban playgrounds...
The Guardian | 21 July
Spectacular Shark Encounters...
IFL Science | 20 July
Perth beach world's first to...
ABC Radio National | 18 July
Aussies want healthier vend...
AJP | 17 July
Who makes a smart city?
The Guardian | 16 July
Victoria's newest commissi...
The Guardian | 15 July
Could This Technology Make...
NY Mag | 13 July
NASA’s New Horizons spacecr...
Daily Telegraph | 12 July
More media coverage

  • Dr Javad Foroughi (left) and Professor Geoff Spinks are part of a team which has helped develop a new hybrid yarn muscle.