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Microdevices Muscle Up

Muscle fibre

Muscle fibre

By Geoff Spinks

Artificial muscles are evolving from laboratory curiosities to serious applications in surprisingly diverse areas, from cochlear implants to robotic fish.

Geoff Spinks is conducting his research at the University of Wollongong’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Deafness, cancer and pollution would seem to have very little in common, but in fact can all be helped by shape-shifting materials: artificial muscles that change their shape or size when stimulated. These fascinating materials are being developed for a wide range of micro-devices, including the next generation cochlear implant, a wearable garment to massage away excess limb fluid after cancer treatments, and a robotic fish that can swim about looking for water pollution.

Conventional motors and engines cannot be used because they are too complicated to miniaturise. Instead, researchers have turned to much simpler muscle-like materials.

We are developing microscopic guidance systems that can help surgeons accurately position the cochlear implant close to the nerves in the inner ear to improve sound quality. Our “lymph sleeve” device will use soft and flexible fabrics that can contract and squeeze the arm to prevent the build-up of lymphatic fluid, which causes considerable discomfort for up to one-third of Australian women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. And the chemical sensors in our untethered robotic fish called WANDA (Wireless Aquatic Navigator for Detection and Analysis) offer a more efficient solution to detecting and tracking the source of water pollution than networks of thousands of fixed sensor stations.

The essential common element...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.