In a major breakthrough, new research reveals that scientists have created muscle yarn that is 10 times thinner than human hair but can lift over 100,000 times its own weight.
The hybrid yarn muscles are based on carbon nanotubes, which are hollow cylinders just one carbon atom thick like the layers of graphite.
On their own, carbon nanotubes are about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair but they can be 100 times stronger than steel, the journal Science reported.
The scientists accomplished the feat by combining carbon nanotubes with a wax material. Because the muscles are dry they can be stimulated by external conditions such as temperature.
Australian scientists from ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), University of Wollongong, have developed the new artificial muscle with an international team across four continents. They combined the nanotubes with a wax material like household candles.
The yarn can be potentially used in self-powered intelligent textiles that could automatically react to environmental conditions like heat or sweat, according to an ACES statement.
"When heated, either electrically or with a flash of light, the wax in the yarn muscles expands, causing contraction of the nanotube yarn and generating a very large contraction," according to ACES researcher Geoff Spinks.
Using the advanced customised technology of the Australian National Fabrication Facility that is housed at ACES' Wollongong NSW node, scientists can move to the next exciting step of weaving, sewing, braiding and knitting the hybrid yarn muscles.
"The yarns could be used to create intelligent fabrics that can open and close the porosity of the fabric to allow heat in or keep it out, or release moisture," ACES researcher and fabrication expert Javad Foroughi said.
Other applications for the yarns could include robots, catheters, micro-motors, tuneable optical systems and even toys.