Artificial muscles made from polymers can now be powered by energy from glucose and oxygen, just like biological muscles. This progress can be a step in the way of implantable artificial muscles or autonomous micro-robots powered by biomolecules in their environment. Researchers at Linköping University, Sweden, have presented their results in the journal Advanced Materials .
The movement of our muscles is driven by energy released when glucose and oxygen take part in biochemical reactions. Similarly, manufactured actuators can convert energy into motion, but the energy in this case comes from other sources, such as electricity. Researchers from Linköping University, Sweden, wanted to develop artificial muscles that work more like biological muscles. They have now demonstrated the principle by using artificial muscles driven by the same glucose and oxygen that our bodies use.
The researchers have used an electroactive polymer, polypyrrole, which changes the volume when an electric current is passed. The artificial muscle, known as a "polymer actuator", consists of three layers: a thin membrane layer between two layers of electroactive polymers. This design has been used in the field for many years. It works when the material on one side of the membrane acquires a positive electrical charge, and ions are expelled, causing it to shrink. At the same time, the material, on the other hand, acquires a negative electric charge, and ions are inserted, causing the material to expand. Volume changes cause the actuator to bend in one direction in the same way as a muscle contractes.
The electrons that cause movement in artificial muscles usually come from an external source, such as e.g. A battery. But batteries suffer from several obvious drawbacks: they are usually heavy and must be charged regularly. Instead, the researchers behind the study decided to use the technology behind bioelectrodes that could convert chemical energy into electrical energy using enzymes. They have used naturally occurring enzymes that integrate them into the polymer.
"These enzymes convert glucose and oxygen in the same way as in the body to produce the electrons required for force movement in an artificial muscle made from an electroactive polymer. No voltage source is required: it is simply to immerse the actuator in dissolution of glucose in water, "says Edwin Jager, associate professor in Sensor and Actuator Systems, in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Linköping University. Together with Anthony Turner, Professor Emeritus, he has led the study.
Like in biological muscles, the glucose is directly converted to movement in the artificial muscles.
"When we had fully integrated enzymes on both sides of the actuator and it actually moved – it was just amazing," says Jose Martinez, a research team member.
The next step for the researchers is to control the biochemical reactions in the enzymes so that the movement can be reversible in many cycles. They have already demonstrated that the movement is reversible, but they had to use a little trick to do so. Now they want to create a system that is even closer to a biological muscle. The researchers will also test the concept with other actuators such as "textile muscle" and use it in micro-robotics.
"Glucose is available in all organs of the body and it is a useful substance to begin with. The progress we present here makes it possible to drive actuators with energy from substances in their natural surroundings, "says Edwin Jager.
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Fariba Mashayekhi Mazar et al., Artificial Muscles Powered by Glucose, Advanced Materials (2019). DOI: 10.1002 / adma.201901677
Artificial muscles powered by glucose (2019, June 19)
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