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Creating Artificial Muscles With Silicone

Artifical Muscles

Improving surgery is a long-held medical goal. One area that can improve the lives of people is with the creation of artificial muscles and researchers at different universities are exploring the most appropriate methods and materials. One such medical application is with the use of laboratory-developed ‘muscles’ to control severe incontinence.

Scientists from the University of Basel have created a method to generate nanometer-thin silicone films. These have an advantage in that electrical energy can readily be transformed into mechanical energy, through the addition of electrodes and the application of a charge.

The process requires the creation of nanometer-thin layers. The thinner the layers, the lower the voltage required, and the safer the use of a medical implant would become. To develop a ‘muscle’, a process is required whereby several thousand layers need to be placed upon each other.

The trick is, and this is where the University of Basel researchers have been successful, is with developing a deposition method whereby the layers are carefully placed upon each other to form the optimal structure. Here they have developed the process of electrospray deposition. Their approach differed from other applications of electrospray deposition in that they used alternating current instead of direct current; a modification which produced greater efficiencies.

Further work is required and any medical application would require a clinical trial. Nonetheless, the research group have indicated they anticipate patients suffering from severe incontinence could benefit from the technology in the near future.

The development to date has been published in the journal Advanced Electronic Materials. The paper is headed “Electrospraying Nanometer-Thin Elastomer Films for Low-Voltage Dielectric Actuators.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.