Scientists funded by the U.S. Air Force are coming up with ways to make biopolymers into synthesized muscle tissue.
“Our results have provided some of the first microscopic insights into a sixty-year-old puzzle about the way polymeric networks react to repeated shear strains,” says Dr. Daniel Blair, assistant professor, and principal investigator of the Soft Matter Group in the Department of Physics at Georgetown University.
The scientists are using a muscle filament known as actin to construct a unique polymer network, reports Plastics Today. They developed instruments called a rheometer and a confocal microscope that measure the mechanical properties of materials. Specifically, these instruments measure physical properties of polymers that have traditionally been difficult to “see” during mechanical stress experiments.
The hope is that the instruments will help lay the groundwork for future generations of materials that will possibly be used to create synthesized muscle tissue for the Air Force. Ideally, these materials will be used to power micro-robots.
The instruments enabled the scientists to see the shearing effect (called the Mullins Effect) when biological polymers become dramatically softer than conventional polymers. At the same time, these materials become stronger than conventional medical plastics. The researchers say that they will continue to study the Mullins Effect as a way to understand the properties of composite and biological networks.
Source: “Air Force tests tools for potential artificial muscle production,” Plastics Today, 8/13/12
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.