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Artificial polymer muscles that contract with electronic/magnetic stimulation?

  1. May 23, 2009 #1
    Artificial polymer "muscles" that contract with electronic/magnetic stimulation?

    Hi everyone! First post-- hope this is the right place for it! And just to let you know, I'm not an engineering professional. I'm asking this question based on a speculative industrial design contest for which I'd like to ground my entry's concept in some reality.

    I'd like to ask about a material I heard about a couple of years ago. However, I'm having trouble finding more information about it on the web because I don't know what keywords to put in!

    The material in question is a synthetic polymer that could "contract" like a muscle when a current was run through it. (However, it may have been stimulated with magnetism, I'm actually not quite sure.) I believe it could also be made to bend, and curl rather precisely.

    So my main questions are: Did I misinterpret the person who mentioned this technology? Does it indeed exist? If so, how do I find out more information about it? I'd like to see some diagrams and photos.

    I'm not sure how powerful these "contractions" are. (Could a joint powered by this as a "muscle" lift it's own weight?) If not, is this technology in our near future?

    If such a material were organized over a humanoid skeleton frame in the pattern of human musculature, could it function as human muscles do?
    (Of course, this won't actually be built or anything, so technicalities and cost of this wouldn't be an issue.)

    I'm sorry if my query sounds rather vague. Hopefully someone here is familiar with this!
    Last edited: May 24, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. May 24, 2009 #2


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    Re: Artificial polymer "muscles" that contract with electronic/magnetic stimulation?

    At first, I thought you might be talking about pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs), also known as braided pneumatic actuators (BPAs):

    But as you say contractile polymer, you're probably thinking more along the lines of Electroactive polymers:

    I've only passing experience with the latter, even less than the former--and even that was only because one of my colleagues on a former project was working on a side project using some BPAs manufactured by Festo. I recall that the electroactive polymers (a.k.a. artificial muscles)--which were used in one of the labs for a controls course I didn't take--were pretty whimpy. And crazy expensive to boot.

    The following website might also be of interest to you:

    EDIT: And welcome to PhysicsForums!
  4. May 24, 2009 #3
    Re: Artificial polymer "muscles" that contract with electronic/magnetic stimulation?

    Thank you! Electroactive polymers were exactly what I was looking for, though I'm glad you also introducted me to PAMs as well-- I might be able to integrate those, too. I also found Scientific American article linked by your last link to be very helpful. :smile:

    While the technology does seem rather wimpy at its current state, it seems as though it has the potential for very delicate and precise operations. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes in the next decade or two.
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