Scientists Have Created Programmable Shape-Shifting Liquid Metal

Researchers at the University of Sussex and Swansea University have applied electrical charges to manipulate liquid metal into 2D shapes such as letters and a heart. The team says the findings represent an “extremely promising” new class of materials that can be programmed to seamlessly change shape. This open up new possibilities in ‘soft robotics’ and shape-changing displays, the researcher say.

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While the invention might bring to mind the film Terminator 2, in which the villain morphs out of a pool of liquid metal, the creation of 3D shapes is still some way off. More immediate applications could include reprogrammable circuit boards and conductive ink.

Yutaka Tokuda, the Research Associate working on this project at the University of Sussex, says:
“This is a new class of programmable materials in a liquid state which can dynamically transform from a simple droplet shape to many other complex geometry in a controllable manner. While this work is in its early stages, the compelling evidence of detailed 2D control of liquid metals excites us to explore more potential applications in computer graphics, smart electronics, soft robotics and flexible displays.”

The electric fields used to shape the liquid are created by a computer, meaning that the position and shape of the liquid metal can be programmed and controlled dynamically.

 
Professor Sriram Subramanian, head of the INTERACT Lab at the University of Sussex, said:
“Liquid metals are an extremely promising class of materials for deformable applications; their unique properties include voltage-controlled surface tension, high liquid-state conductivity and liquid-solid phase transition at room temperature. One of the long-term visions of us and many other researchers is to change the physical shape, appearance and functionality of any object through digital control to create intelligent, dexterous and useful objects that exceed the functionality of any current display or robot.”

The research is being has been presented at the ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces 2017 conference in Brighton. This is a joint project between Sussex and Swansea funded by EPSRC on “Breaking the Glass: Multimodal, Malleable Interactive Mobile surfaces for Hands-In Interactions”.

Comments

  1. If they can form liquid metals this way how about heated to liquid metals so that with cooling they retain their shape. Tons of applications for this.

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    1. That looked like solder (with something ferrous added) on a hot plate to me, so...looks like you got your wish already.

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  2. From what I am seeing this is not really forming liquid metal for programming purposes.. Its more lets take a negative charged circuit and isolate the charge and then put liquid metal on them and it being positive charged it creates a magnetic effect that moves the liquid. NOW lets take it a step further and say we applied Nanotechnology to this application then we can see some better advancements of this study. Simple with thousands of Nano sensors that can be injected into the liquid you can then manipulate within the material itself being able to then construct a better working modual.

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    1. Brilliant.
      Nano sensors? How does one inject that into liquid metal?

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    2. nano hands I would presume.....:)

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  3. phew, it made a love heart, I was worried it was evil for a minute there.

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  4. This technology is why the Malaysian air line disappeared.

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  5. To me, it seems more like attracting a liquid to a current instead of actually having that liquid manage its own molecules into a free form shape.

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    1. Well, yes. They never said that it could move on it's own, it's manipulated under their control by shooting highlighted currents of electricity. The next level would be to introduce a.i. nanotech into the liquid metal, binding with the liquid metal on a sub-atomic level. The nanotech would have similar "flexiliquid" properties and from there the liquid metal would be able shapeshift on it's own by simple verbal or transmitted request. The flexiliquid a.i. nanotech would of course have it's own self-generated electro-magnetic motion grid in which to create more precise cohesive shapes and formations on it's own, thus mirroring the tech seen in Terminator 2. uh

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  6. "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

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