Scientists create new model of artificial muscle inspired by DNA structure

In a new development, researchers at the University of Wollongong have mimicked the supercoiling properties of DNA in a bid to develop a new type of artificial muscles for use in miniature robot applications. The research is published in Science Robotics.

In fact, one of the challenges for miniaturization of robotics is that conventional mechanical drive systems are difficult to downsize without losing performance. This includes developing micro-instruments for remote robotic processes. Importantly, artificial muscles that produce large and reversible movement, high output of mechanical work, respond quickly, and function for millions of rotations would be ideally suited for minuscule machines, stated the lead author of the study.

“Meanwhile, the miniaturization of robotic devices will have many applications. However, the main challenge is to generate powerful movement and forces in tiny devices,” added the researcher.

For example, electric motors are simply too complex to downsize, therefore, artificial muscles are looked upon to provide compact mechanical actuation.

To create this, arrays of minuscule artificial muscles could be concatenated to create wearable devices and advanced prosthetics. This is to help people move when they have an injury of physical ability. Furthermore, tiny actuators could be included into tools for non-invasive surgical procedures and micro-manipulators in industry.

Interestingly, nature is inspiration for the new type of artificial muscle. This however, requires the DNA to contract more than 1000 times as part of a process called supercoiling. This is in order to fit into the cell nucleus.

“The work describes a new type of artificial muscle that imitates the way DNA molecules collapse to fit into the cell nucleus,” opines the lead researcher.