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Small muscles to have a big impact on smart clothing Return to case studies page

Dr Javad Foroughi and Prof Geoff Spinks, Materials node – University of Wollongong
Frontier Technologies
A new artificial muscle could make intelligent textiles that automatically react to environmental conditions like heat or sweat.

The hybrid yarn muscles are based on carbon nanotubes - hollow cylinders just one carbon atom thick. 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.

Researchers at the University of Wollongong, part of the Materials node of ANFF, combined the nanotubes with a wax material similar to household candles, the result being a single thread of yarn around 10 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, that can lift over 100,000 times its own weight and generate 85 times higher mechanical output that natural skeletal muscles.

Prof Geoff Spinks and Dr Javad Foroughi carried out the research through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) as part of a team spread across four continents.

Prof Geoff Spinks said “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.”

Unlike other artificial muscles, the hybrid yarn muscles are fully dry so actuation can be triggered from changes in environmental temperature or the presence of chemical agents, making them perfect for use as self-powered intelligent materials.

Using facilities housed at the Materials node the team 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,” said ACES researcher and fabrication expert Dr Javad Foroughi.

“Other applications for the yarns could include robots, catheters, micro-motors, tuneable optical systems and even toys.” ANFF would like to congratulate the team for today’s publication in the prestigious journal Science and on Javad receiving his 3-year fellowship from the Australian Research Council to develop intelligent fabrics.