A group of scientists led by Pu Zhang of Binghamton University loves to compare their development from liquid metal with the T-1000 model from the cult movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day. A robot sent from the future could transform into anything. Zhang is working on the “world’s first liquid metal grating” of Field metal.
This alloy of bismuth, indium and tin becomes liquid already at a temperature of 62 degrees Celsius. A very expensive thing that is used, for example, as a coolant in nuclear technology.
Zhang’s group combined metal with a rubber sheath in a hybrid manufacturing process. The production process was complicated. It uses 3D printing, vacuum casting and conformal coating.
– Shell frame controls overall shape and integrity. We spent more than half a year developing this production process, because this new material is very difficult to process.
The group has developed several prototypes that can restore their shape after heating to the melting point. One of them is such a hand. Her fingers slowly spread out as the material heats up.
What can this technology be used for? This liquid metal in the solid state is very durable and safe. It absorbs a lot of energy upon impact, can change its shape, but when heated it returns to its original form and can be reused.
Zhang notes that technology can interest space companies. The structure of this material can be packaged in a smaller volume, and then return to the desired original shape by heating. Satellite developers can pack the web into a small capacity and then deploy it like an antenna in orbit.
Also, the technology can find application in the landing modules of various lunar and Martian vehicles. With a hard fit, the shape may be broken, but heating can return it.
– Our dream is to build a robot. We have a hand, we have gone one step further, ”Zhang says.