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American Association for the Advancement of Science

With a twist, researchers turn fishing line into muscles

Photograph comparing muscles made by coiling (from left to right) 150 μm, 280 μm, 860 μm and 2.45 mm nylon 6 monofilament fibers. For more information, please see Figure S10 in the Supporting Online Material.
[Image courtesy of Science/AAAS]

What if the clothing you wore responded to temperature, becoming thicker on cold days and thinner on hot days? Or if the window shutters in your house opened and closed automatically to keep the temperature inside just right? That's the kind of technology that Carter Haines and colleagues show off in a new Science report.

The researchers describe a surprisingly simple way to make strong artificial muscles by twisting strong fibersólike the ones used for fishing line and sewing threadóuntil they coil up. This extreme twisting allows the fibers to serve as strong muscles, capable of lifting loads 100 times heavier than human muscles of the same length and weight, they say.

But, on top of that, these new artificial muscles can be triggered by a number of things, including temperature. Haines and the researchers used them to make fabrics and window shutters that measure heat and react accordingly. And these artificial muscles seem to be as strong and effective as others that are more expensive, the researchers say.

Haines and his team imagine that their new technology will find applications in robotics and prosthetic, or artificial, limbs.