Technological watch

UCLA advances development of artificial muscle

LOS ANGELES—Materials scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in collaboration with research institute SRI International, have developed a new material and manufacturing process for creating artificial muscles that are "stronger and more flexible than their biological counterparts."

To create the artificial muscle, the researchers worked with dielectric elastomers (DE), which are lightweight materials with high elastic energy density that offer optimal flexibility and toughness.

Dielectric elastomers are electroactive polymers, which are natural or synthetic substances composed of large molecules that can change in size or shape when stimulated by an electric field, UCLA said in a statement July 7.

The materials can be used as actuators, enabling machines to operate by transforming electric energy into mechanical work.

Most dielectric elastomers are made of either acrylic or silicone, both of which have certain drawbacks.

While traditional acrylic DEs can achieve high actuation strain, they require pre-stretching and lack flexibility. Silicones are easier to make, but they cannot withstand high strain, according to UCLA.

"Creating an artificial muscle to enable work and detect force and touch has been one of the grand challenges of science and engineering," said Qibing Pei, a professor of materials science and engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.

Utilizing commercially available chemicals and employing an ultraviolet (UV) light curing process, the UCLA-led research team created an improved acrylic-based material that is "more pliable, tunable and simpler to scale without losing its strength and endurance."

The acrylic acid, according to UCLA, enables more hydrogen bonds to form, thereby making the material more movable.

Publication date: 21/07/2022

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.