Ray Baughman and colleagues at the University of Texas have fashioned an a grouping of carbon nanontubes into an interlocking aerogel pattern that could be the prototype of an artificial muscle. The aerogel “flexes” when stimulated by an electrical charge and can also lengthen to over twice its original length in milliseconds.
The aerogels are made from carbon nanotube forests which have carbon nanotubes identically aligned vertically. Once formed the nanotube aerogels have directional properties. When electrically charged, the aerogels can expand thirty times in the sheet direction but are extremely stiff in the nanotube direction.
This prototype artificial muscle reacts and contracts at a rate 1000 times greater than human muscle and generates a force 30 times greater than human muscle. It is functional over a temperature range from 80 – 1900 K.
Possible future medical uses of this technology include use as human muscle actuators and in robotic prosthetics.