Impact: Creating inexpensive artificial muscles for prosthetic limbs, heart assisted devices and post-cancer treatment therapies
Artificial muscles are materials that can respond much like our own muscle to generate movement and force when stimulated. Artificial muscles are being developed for application in a wide range of areas including prosthetic limbs, dexterous and agile robots, micro-tools for surgery, and smart clothing that can adjust to the wearer’s needs.
In 2014, the announcement in the prestigious journal Science that UOW researchers had used ordinary, inexpensive polymer fibres, like fishing line and sewing thread, to make artificial muscles, generated great interest around the world.
This discovery, made by the team at the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) and their collaborators, is a major breakthrough in artificial muscle technology. The everyday polymer fibres they used to create their artificial muscles out-performed all others and are 1000 times cheaper than the closest commercially-available alternative.
Artificial muscle research has been a major focus for the IPRI since the mid-1990s. The discovery of the fishing line artificial muscles can be linked directly to the PhD research of Dr Javad Foroughi in 2008 at IPRI.
Dr Foroughi’s observation of ‘torsional actuation’ in carbon nanotube yarns was published in Science in 2011 and this work led directly to two subsequent Science papers, including the announcement of the artificial muscles made from everyday fibres.
The breakthrough has inspired a huge following of artificial muscle ‘hobbyists’. Because these artificial muscles can be made by almost anyone, there are dozens of YouTube videos showing examples of ordinary people making and using these muscles.
Commercial applications of these artificial muscles are being pursued, including in a prototype Lymph Sleeve - a wearable garment for relieving the swelling of arms due to breast cancer related lymphoedema - developed in conjunction with UOW’s Biomechanics Research Laboratory.
This work is being financially supported by a major multinational company, and two early career researchers Dr Sheridan Gho and Michael Weaver were the winners of the inaugural NSW-QB3 Rosenman Institute Fellowship to explore medical technology commercialisation.
- PROFESSOR GEOFFREY SPINKS
DR JAVAD FOROUGHI
DR SINA NAFICY
DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR GORDON WALLACE
Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, UOW
- PROFESSOR JULIE STEELE
Biomechanics Research Laboratory, UOW
- PROFESSOR RAY BAUGHMAN
University of Texas, USA
- PROFESSOR SEON JEONG KIM
Hanyang University, South Korea
- PROFESSOR JOHN MADDEN
University of British Columbia, Canada