28 June 2014

It might be difficult to believe that something as ordinary and inexpensive as the humble fishing line can be used to produce “muscles” with super-human strength.

Materials experts at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong have created powerful artificial muscles by twisting and coiling simple fishing line and applying heat for contraction and expansion.

The new muscles are able to lift one hundred times more weight—and generate one hundred times higher mechanical power—than real human muscle.

Working for years with more sophisticated materials including carbon nanotubes, the research team from ACES, together with collaborators across six countries led by University of Texas at Dallas, have now made the remarkable discovery that even the most simplest of materials can outperform the others.

“Sometimes there is a great irony in research,” said Professor Spinks, the lead Australian researcher on the project.

“After nearly two decades developing exotic materials as artificial muscles, we have now discovered that the best performing systems can be made from ordinary, everyday fishing line.”

Using cheap and readily available fishing line, the process to convert it into a functioning artificial muscles was as easy as twisting the fibre into a coil. The coils can be powered thermally by temperature changes, by absorption of light, or by chemical reaction of fuels, causing the dramatic contraction and expansion of the coil. Voila, a spring-like muscle.

The applications for the technology seem limitless, with the researchers demonstrating using the fishing line coils to make environmentally-powered artificial muscles which can automatically open and close windows of buildings in response to temperature changes.

Other exciting potential applications include use in robots and prosthetic limbs, and weaving the coils into useable fabrics that can loosen or tighten in response to temperature changes.

ACES Director, Professor Gordon Wallace, praised the efforts of all the researchers involved in this long term collaborative project, made possible with funding provided through the ARC Centres of Excellence scheme.

“ARC funding has enabled us to initiate, and most importantly sustain, a number of strategic international collaborations. These have resulted in outcomes that have had and will continue to have significant global impact,” Professor Wallace said.

“Collaborative research skills are more than a nice thing to have. They are critical in the modern research era. Projects such as this enable researchers to develop ‘in the field’. They provide the training ground needed to acquire essential scientific and communication credentials.”

For more information about the work of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, visit the ACES website.

View a video on this research project on YouTube.


Image 1: Fishing line muscle woven into a fabric, lifting a weight up and down. Pictured is Dr Javad Foroughi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science. Photo credit: University of Wollongong.

Image 2: Researchers have found a potential application for fishing line muscles - replacing noisy motors for louvered windows that respond to changes in temperature. From left, Prof  Ray Baughman, Dr Javad Foroughi, Sina Naficy, Prof Geoff Spinks, Prof Gordon  Wallace, Prof John Madden. Photo credit: The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science.