Revolutionary – A Simple Yet Much Stronger Artificial Muscle

By Anupum Pant

Background

Some things are just too simple to be noticed by most adults, rather a child would notice it better. Scientists are the ones who manage to hone their ability to  look at things like a child would see it – Children of course are the best scientists. That is what makes scientists different from most other people. And that is what helps them make elegant discoveries, like the one we are seeing here today.

Now, this may seem like a useless thing to some, but in reality the simple fishing line muscle is a huge step towards creating affordable personal robots, exoskeletons and a host of other earth changing devices. I can’t stop thinking how massive this simple thing could end up being.

The Discovery

A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, did exactly that. In a simple nylon fishing line, these researchers saw something that everyone till date has failed to notice. They noticed that, by twisting a nylon line into a coil (and heat treating), they could turn it into an artificial muscle. Later it was learnt that a simple artificial muscle made in this manner is about 100 times stronger than a human muscle and can go through millions of cycles without failing.

It’s actually so simple to do that you could make an artificial muscle in your own home. In fact, it works with a variety of other kinds of materials too, but better stick to the tested fishing line for now.

All you need to do is to hold one end of a long fishing line and start twisting the other end (a hand mixer could come in handy here). At some point the line reaches a point where it can’t twist any more, and then it starts getting coiled into a telephone wire kind of a spring. Now it can be heated in an oven (carefully, without melting) and cooled to lock it in this coil shape. There, you’ve got your own artificial muscle.

Working

Unlike what you think it would do when heated, the coil actually contracts and can lift a good amount of weight. An array of such artificial muscle fibres could lift a much heavier weight. as shown in the video below.

At first I found it confusing. It was hard for me to understand, what physics goes inside that makes the coil contract as a whole when it is heated. From the words of a wise scienitist, I found that it works like a chinese finger trap (and then I had to look what this piece of origami was). Whatever the coil does is absolutely elegant. It’s almost impossible for me to explain in words how it works. You might have to watch the video below…

The catch is that the nylon muscles made in this manner are very inefficient, but that can be worked upon.

Human Foot Pwns Any Shoe We’ve Ever Made

By Anupum Pant

Background

No doubt we have come far enough to be able to cram in Billions of transistors on a few mm² of real estate. Hell, we’ve even been able to construct single atom transistors. Technology sure has come far, but within a just few decades of evolution of technology, are we really sure that we’ve done better than the work done by nature through Millions of years of evolution in the field of bio-mechanics? I’m not too sure we have. Rather I believe, nature already is far ahead of us. That is probably the reason, we are not even close to properly understanding how animate matter really works. We have a long way to go. And here is why I say that…

Although this was back in the year 2010, it is still relevant.

Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard

Professor Daniel E. Lieberman from the Skeletal biology lab of Harvard asked a simple question, “how and why did ancient humans run comfortably without modern running shoes?”
This question encouraged him to start a research in his Skeletal biology lab – The result of which made the professor to ditch his shoes (read on to know why). Now, he is the “barefoot professor”.

In a 2 Million year span through which humans have been running, it’s been only a couple of decades since they’ve started using shoes to run. Before that, for Millions of years, people used to run barefoot. In the process that has lasted about 2 Million years, the professor believes that the human foot was able to evolve into a very advanced bio-mechanical device. Turns out, you don’t need shoes to run, you just need feet. The foot easily beats any modern running shoe. Here’s how…

The Research

In their research, they observed and studied several cases of people running with and without shoes. With the help of modern technology (again) they were able to map out the kind forces that are experienced by the foot in both cases. Moreover, they found a stark difference in how people run with shoes, and how they do it without shoes.

Running with a shoe: When people run with shoes, they tend to rely on the soft cushion at the heel of the shoe, and most of the time they land on the heel. This abrupt landing creates huge impact forces and hurts your foot. In the long run, it causes problems. Nature clearly didn’t design the foot to run with shoes! As the video screenshot shows… (the running style is of course shown without the shoe).

running with a shoe

Running without a shoe: Now, that doesn’t happen when you run without a shoe. Since you don’t have a cushion to rely on, you tend to land on the front part of the foot (with almost a parallel footing, a little tilted towards the front). This part isn’t solid like the heel. It has been crafted very carefully by the nature to absorb the impact forces (or in other words to delay the time for which forces are experienced, like a shock absorber). That means, there are no peak impact forces. The curve, as you can see is a beautifully smooth curve, without peaks.

running without a shoe

In the following video, Madhusudhan Venkadesan explains this using a simple pen analogy (at 3:52).

via [ScienceDump] Know more at the website [RunningBarefoot]

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A Book That Filters 4 Years of Drinkable Water

By Anupum Pant

I’ve written a lot about water in the past. No wonder drinking water is such a precious commodity. Still, not many have access to clean water. About a 7th of the whole world’s population don’t have clean water to drink. Every year about 3.4 Million people die out of water borne diseases.

A group of people who go by the name WaterisLife are putting in everything to change that. By working with a group of scientists from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Virginia, they have been able to come up with a novel idea that could change this. They call it the drinkable book. 

Drinkable book is a book full of cards that have been coated with silver nanoparticles. These cards bear the ability to filter dirty water and reduce the count of bacteria in it by about 99.9%. It can kill the bacteria that causes diseases like cholera, typhoid and E. coli., producing drinkable water that is as pure as tap water used in the US. Each page of this book can filter about 30 days of drinkable water. In fact, each page contains the instructions to filter water properly too. The whole book can provide 4 years of potable water. Definitely a boon to the developing countries.