Texas (Jan. 5, 2005) – Researchers at the NanoTech Institute
at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) have been
awarded a $750,000, 20-month grant to develop artificial
muscles that convert chemical energy to mechanical energy.
The award was made by the United States Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), whose charter is to
develop new technologies for military applications.
UTD NanoTech Institute researchers
have long pioneered in inventing artificial muscles
that are electrically powered, and their discoveries
in this area have led to industrial commercialization
efforts in the United States, Japan and Sweden. This
new program is more ambitious – to make artificial
muscles that are chemically powered, like natural
muscle, and exceed the force generation, contraction
and speed of their natural counterpart.
Electrically powered artificial
muscles based on conducting polymer and carbon nanotubes
were first described by the principal investigator
of this new program, Dr. Ray H. Baughman, Robert A.
Welch Professor of Chemistry and director of the UTD
NanoTech Institute. Carbon nanotubes are nanosize
cylinders of graphite sheets and conducting polymers
are plastics made “metallic” by doping. Dr. Alan MacDiarmid,
James Von Ehr Distinguished Chair in Science and Technology
at UTD and a winner of the Nobel Prize for the co-discovery
of conducting polymers, has made pioneering advances
in developing conducting polymer artificial muscles.
While the carbon nanotube muscles
can exceed the performance of natural muscle by generating
a hundred times the force and elongating twice as
fast, the contraction is less than one-tenth that
of natural muscle. The conducting polymer muscles
provide similar contractions to natural muscles, but
have neither high cycle life nor high energy conversion
efficiencies. The goal of the DARPA-funded program
is to eliminate these problems and convert from electrically
powered to chemically powered artificial muscles.
The proposed fuel-powered artificial
muscles are at the same time fuel cells, supercapacitors
and mechanical actuators, so the same elements convert
a high energy density fuel to electrical energy, store
this energy and use it to do mechanical work. These
artificial muscles will use strong, tough carbon nanotube
yarns that were recently described in the prestigious
journal Science by UTD researchers and a colleague
from an Australian national laboratory.
“An important possible eventual
application of this research is artificial limbs that
function like natural arms and legs – including the
ability to move and manipulate objects -- both for
amputees and robots,” Baughman said. “While we are
very far from achieving this vision at present, we
have already experimentally demonstrated primitive
devices that directly convert the chemical energy
of fuels to mechanical motion.”
The first “fuel cell artificial
muscle” was demonstrated at UTD by Research Scientist
Von Howard Ebron, Research Associate Zhiwei Yang and
Dr. John Ferraris, interim dean of the university’s
School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
The University of Texas at
Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson,
Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major
multinational technology corporations known as the
Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 14,000 students.
The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at
the forefront of Texas state universities in terms
of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad
assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree
programs. For additional information about UTD, please
visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.