Fans of sci-fi movies are probably very familiar with this scene in Terminator 2 when Robert Patrick’s smooth liquid metal T-1000 robot easily freezes through the metal bars of a security door. It’s an iconic set that relied on state-of-the-art computer visual effects – it’s kind of director James Cameron’s thing, after all. But researchers have recently developed a new substance capable of recreating a variation of this ability. With more experimentation and fine-tuning, this new “magnetoactive solid-liquid phase transition machine” could provide a wealth of tools for everything from construction repair to medical procedures.
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So far, researchers have been able to ‘jump’ their substance over moats, climb walls, and even split into two cooperative halves to move around an object before reforming into a single entity, like details a new study published Wednesday in Question. In a cheeky video featuring strong T2 Recalls, a Lego man-shaped mold of the magnetoactive solid-liquid can even be seen liquefying and moving through tiny prison cell bars before reforming back into its original structure. If that last part seems a little impossible, well, it is. For the moment.
“There is a context in the video. He [looks] like magic,” Carmel Majidi, lead author and mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon, tells PopSci with a laugh. According to Majidi, everything that led to the reform of the model is as it appears – the shape What is liquefy before being sucked through the mesh barrier via alternating electromagnetic currents. From there, however, someone interrupts the camera to recast the mold back to its original shape.
But even without the small gag of film history, Majidi says he and his colleagues’ new material could have major benefits in a multitude of situations. The team, made up of experts from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Carnegie Mellon University, created a “phase-shifting” material by embedding magnetic particles in gallium, a metal with an extremely low melting point of only 29.8 C, or about 85 F. . To do this, the magnetically infused gallium is exposed to an alternating magnetic field to generate enough heat by induction. Changing the path of the electromagnet can conversely direct the liquefied form, while maintaining a much less viscous state than similar phase change materials.
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“There has been a huge amount of work on these soft magnetic devices that could be used for biomedical applications,” says Majidi. “Increasingly, these materials [could] used for diagnosis, drug delivery… [and] retrieve or remove foreign objects.
The latest variation from Majidi and his colleagues, however, stands out from this amorphous blob of similar substances. “What this gives to these systems is their ability to change stiffness and change shape, so they can now have even greater mobility in this context.”
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Majidi warns, however, that any deployment in medical practices is still a long way off. Meanwhile, it’s much closer to being deployed in situations like circuit assembly and repair, where the material might seep into hard-to-reach areas before congealing as a conductor and solder simultaneously.
Further testing needs to be undertaken to determine the substance’s biocompatibility in humans, but Majidi says it’s not hard to imagine patients one day walking into an MRI-like machine that can guide versions ingested material for medical procedures. For now, however, it seems that modern technology is at least one step closer to catching up Terminator 2The visual effects magic of over 30 years ago.