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Biotech Science

Springy Nanotubes Could Make Artificial Muscles 70

moon_monkey writes "Scientists have discovered that carbon nanotubes have remarkable springy properties, which could make them ideal for use in artificial muscles. Currently, electroactive polymers are most commonly used to make artificial muscles, but these lack mechanical robustness. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tested the nanotubes by repeatedly squashing them between metal plates. The work is reported in Nature Nanotechnology."
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Springy Nanotubes Could Make Artificial Muscles

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  • Grow muscle? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Don_dumb ( 927108 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @06:07AM (#19874491)
    Is there any reason why we can't just grow new muscle fibres outside of the destination body and use those instead of finding a more artifical replacement or do these nano-tubes have an advatange over our tissues?
    Forgive my noobness on tissue replacement but I was under the impression that we were on the verge of 'test-tube organs' and if that is the case why not artificially grown muscle tissue?
    • Re:Grow muscle? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iktos ( 166530 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @06:17AM (#19874507)
      What "destination body"? This is for machines.
      • Are you sure, the article (and summary) seemed to suggest human prosthetics, or have I misunderstood this completely?
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by iktos ( 166530 )
          Sorry, I was probably too brief. You're of course right regarding prosthetics and it does mention implantation.

          But I think the term "artifical tissue" in this case does not mean the same thing as it usually does, when it's biological in nature like skin and bone replacements which either becomes part of the recipient or allows own new cells to grow in place. A plastic actuator seems to be something quite different.
      • Might be for machines... But soon I'll be just one hack away from becoming The Strongest Geek in the Universe!!
    • "Is there any reason why we can't just grow new muscle fibres..?"

      Because they usually don't want to uses those "muscles" inside a human body (so an electric-powered muscle is far more convienient than a blood powered one) and, with the right material, you could build muscles far more resistant than organic ones.
      • by iktos ( 166530 )
        One mentioned use actually is "artificial tissue for implantation", so inside isn't out of the question, but I don't think they mean implantation in the sense of making it part of the recipent.

        I think it might be things like a pump which works like a heart, but electrically powered. Machine, but if it works like muscle tissue it does a better job and will have a longer service life.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Yes, using artificial muscle as actual muscular replacement might be a reality in a couple decades, but last time I heard of that, it was inpratictable at large scale (they made a full working atropomorphic arm and hand with electroactive polymers muscles, but it was way heavier than a flesh and bone arm and required a permanent electric power supply.

          On the other hand, heart pumps already exist since a long time and usually use a plain simple electric engine with batteries.

          What I understand from TFA is that
    • Rejection, for one example. The human immune system is pretty paranoid when it encounters anything foreign and organic, such as a transplant. My knowledge of biology comes mostly from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], so I don't know what happens to inorganic implants, but I would guess they don't cause that problem because the body doesn't recognize them as tissue.

      Not having to artificially knock out your immunity with medication for a long time after an operation (if it works at all) would be a big plus.
      • Non-organic transplant materials end up covered in a layer of cartilage and collagen connective tissues. The body recognizes the implants as foreign, but can't find any antigens to react to in a normal fashion and so it isolates the intruding item from circulation instead. Materials that pass testing for use in implants are those that induce the formation of the smallest possible layer.
    • Re:Grow muscle? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 16, 2007 @07:13AM (#19874669)
      There are a few reasons. One is the fact that American researchers still have a hard time doing proper stem cell work, so creating new organs is not such a great line of study. Another is potential rejection of foreign tissue.

      A third is the fact that the people working on this are not in the field of direct tissue engineering (yeah, I am at RPI typing this, I am down the hall from a bunch of the people who wrote the paper). They are mostly Materials Engineers, they are working within their area of study.

      Actually, I think I saw them running the test... Not quite as exciting in person, you need some imagination to turn their research into artificial muscles. That being said, it does have some nice properties that I can see aiding in such an endeavor.
      • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )
        Actually, I think I saw them running the test... Not quite as exciting in person

        Watching people smash plates on nanotubes would be cool!

        Smash, shatter!

        Phil, I think you missed. Or not. Where then hell did those nanotubes get to?
      • I am not sure why American researchers have a hard time doing stem cell work, except that the government only funds a limited number of cell lines. If you want to work with other cell lines you need to find another funding source...Boo hoo.
    • There is nothing wrong of having alternative methods of fixing people. Grown Muscles in a testtube may be great and perhaps even better then Nantotubs but there could exist people who this type of process is incompatable with them, but Nanotubes will work better. As well as we begin NanoTechnology and building more and more active components I don't see why we wounldn't be able to make our bodies more efficient with replacement parts.
    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      Hmmm, if these carbon nanotubes have similar properties to regular carbon nanotubes, then you probably would have considerably more strength available for the same volume and mass. Also, they apparently can use electric power. So they could be powered off of more efficiency power sources than human food. So they're not "natural", but there is the potential for superior mechanical properties with these.
    • That guy is injecting oil directly into his muscle tissue causing his arms to bulge at the injection site only leading to it to look completely anatomically incorrect, unlike steroid users who just get bigger muscles everywhere.
      • I don't know about the oil thing, but Valentino is quite open about his steroid abuse, used to get the "biggest arms in the world".
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @06:25AM (#19874535) Journal
    A Nano-Tube article right next to a Ted Steven's article.
  • by Pionus ( 1128701 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @06:48AM (#19874611)
    People who would need Artificial Muscles are a small minority. We need to improve the lives of the majority people. Imagine the joy that a enhanced nanotube superball or silly putty could bring to the world!
    • by niceone ( 992278 ) *
      People who would need Artificial Muscles are a small minority

      Sure, but think how much more overlordly our new robotic overlords will be once they've been kitted out with durable carbon nanotube artificial muscles. I welcome this.
    • People who would need Artificial Muscles are a small minority. We need to improve the lives of the majority people. Imagine the joy that a enhanced nanotube superball or silly putty could bring to the world!

      Not only that -- imagine the joy it will bring to kids when the word becomes mainstream, and they adopt it as a new insult for other kids.
  • I wonder what the adult toy industry will do with this. I could probably hazard a few guesses, but children might be reading this thread.
  • carbon nanotubes have remarkable springy properties So now we can create artificial erections?!? Sign me up!
  • I hear Duke Nukem Forever will be made using carbon nanotubes.
  • Other applications... space elevator.
    Cue Sci Fi theme music.
  • by Apocalypse111 ( 597674 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @10:59AM (#19876359) Journal
    With normal muscle tissue, strength increases proportional to cross-sectional area, while the weight of both the muscle itself and the object being lifted increases proportional to volume * density. Thus, weight can easily outstrip the ability of a muscle to lift it. This is one of the determining factors in why we do not see giant monsters, as they would be unable to lift their own bodies.

    So, were this new artificial muscle to be developed, would it be constrained by the cross-sectional area rule that normal muscles adhere to? Feasibility and practicality aside, could this be one of the major stepping stones toward having my own giant robot?
    • I might be wrong, but didn't dinosaurs populate the world a while back? And, afaik, they weren't tiny little creatures. :)
      • Hehe, true enough, I guess I should have thought of that before I posted. To be more specific, I was talking about bipedal monsters and robots. If I remember things right, the only reason dino's could be that big was due to their quadrupedal nature, and its for this same reason that there is a debate on how T-Rex's walked, and whether or not it was a scavenger because, by our understanding, it was likely too slow to catch much of anything.

        I mean, who wants a slow quadrupedal robot? I want a fast humano
  • How do artificial muscles come into this? I didn't see any mention of muscle in the abstract, just 'artificial tissue' and 'electrical contacts'. The elastic behavior is wonderful, but how do you pump energy into those nanotubes to make them expand or compress?
  • by 200_success ( 623160 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @01:17PM (#19878195)

    Carbon nanotubes are one of many materials that can be made into artificial muscles. This has been known for a few years. For a comparison of technologies, see actuatorweb.org [actuatorweb.org].

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