Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Miniature Arm Lifts Weights

Artificial muscle contracts and expands with changes in humidity

A small plastic strip can do “weight training” to effortlessly lifts many times its own weight, driven by cyclic changes in the humidity of the surrounding air.

This strong “artificial arm” is based on the interaction between microgels and a layer of polycations that shrinks as it dries, according to a report presented by Canadian researchers in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Polymer materials that perform work in response to a chemical or physical stimulus are often called “artificial muscles”.

These are very interesting for a number of applications, including controlling the movements of “gentler” robots. All components of such robots need to be soft and flexible so that they don’t damage delicate objects and can move in tight spaces.

The arm developed by researchers working with Michael J. Serpe at the University of Alberta is constructed in the following way: A strip of a plastic film is coated with chromium and gold, followed by a microgel monolayer.

Microgels are cross-linked polymers that swell up with a solvent such as water to form gel particles with diameters of up to a few micrometers. The Canadian researchers used negatively charged microgels made from poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) and acrylic acid. A solution containing polycations is deposited onto the gel. These act as positive counterions.

When this system dries out, the hydrophobic interactions between the hydrocarbon regions of the polymer cations increase considerably, which causes the layer containing the polymer cations to shrink. Because the electrostatic attraction between the polycations and the microgel is very strong and the microgel layer is very firmly attached to the coated sheet of plastic, the ends of the strip bend upwards and the system curls up. When the air humidity is increased, it stretches back out.

The researchers hung one of their strips up in a chamber with controlled humidity conditions. By changing the humidity, they were able to make their artificial arm “grip” the handle of a small package and to “hold on” as it rose up. In another experiment, they hung a chain of paperclips to the end of one extended mini-arm. Cyclic changes in the humidity caused the arm to raise and lower this weight, which was 14 times as heavy as the arm itself, like a miniature weight-lifting exercise.

“Given that a human arm is approximately 6.5 % of the total mass of the human body, this is equivalent to a 75 kg human with a single arm that is capable of lifting 68.3 kg,” Serpe says to illustrate the strength of his miniature arm. Even hanging 52.2 g of weight from a curled-up arm was not enough to stretch it out. If a 75 kg human wanted to achieve a similar feat, he would have to keep his arm bent even with 1280 kg pulling on it.

About the Author
Dr. Michael J. Serpe is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Alberta. His research is focused on using polymer-based materials for a variety of applications; with a particular focus on developing novel point-of-care diagnostics, water remediation systems, and polymer-based muscles and actuators. He was recently awarded the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award for his research accomplishments.

Author: Michael J. Serpe, University of Alberta, Edmonton (Canada),

Title: Polymer-Based Muscle Expansion and Contraction
Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Permalink to the article:
Copy free of charge. We would appreciate a transcript of your article or a reference to it.

The original article is available from our online pressroom at

Michael J. Serpe | Angewandte Chemie
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>