SPINNING A YARN: This scanning electron
microscope image depicts a highly coiled,
wax-filled carbon nanotube yarn that
maximizes tensile contraction during
actuation.
Image: Courtesy of Science/AAAS

Waxing Innovative: Researchers Pump Up Artificial Muscles Using Paraffin

Artificial muscles have mostly been flaccid as a replacement for motors. Could carbon nanotube yarns soaked in paraffin wax change this?

By Larry Greenemeier

When Scientific American heard from chemist Ray Baughman a year ago, he and his international team of nanotechnologists had taken artificial-muscle technology to the next level. Their innovation relied on spinning lengths of carbon nanotubes into buff yarns whose twisting and untwisting mimicked natural muscles found in an elephant’s trunk or a squid’s tentacles.

Now the researchers are reporting a new artificial muscle–building technique that makes their carbon nanotube yarns several times faster and more powerful. These qualities could help deliver on the technology’s promise of developing compact, lightweight actuators for robots, exoskeletons and other mechanical devices, although several challenges remain.

The latest breakthrough comes from infusing the carbon nanotube yarns with paraffin wax that expands when heated, enabling the artificial muscles to lift more than 100,000 times their own weight and generate 85 times more mechanical power during contraction than mammalian skeletal muscles of comparable size, according to the researchers, whose latest work is published in the November 16 issue of Science.

Read more: Waxing Innovative: Researchers Pump Up Artificial Muscles Using Paraffin: Scientific American.

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