Research Article

Electrically, Chemically, and Photonically Powered Torsional and Tensile Actuation of Hybrid Carbon Nanotube Yarn Muscles

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Science  16 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6109, pp. 928-932
DOI: 10.1126/science.1226762

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Nanotube Yarn Actuators

Actuators are used to convert heat, light, or electricity into a twisting or tensile motion, and are often described as artificial muscles. Most materials that show actuation either provide larger forces with small-amplitude motions, such as the alloy NiTi, or provide larger motions with much less force, such as polymeric materials. Other problems with such actuators can include slow response times and short lifetimes. Lima et al. (p. 928, see the Perspective by Schulz) show that a range of guest-filled, twist-spun carbon nanotube yarns can be used for linear or torsional actuation, can solve the problems of speed and lifetime, and do not require electrolytes for operation.


Artificial muscles are of practical interest, but few types have been commercially exploited. Typical problems include slow response, low strain and force generation, short cycle life, use of electrolytes, and low energy efficiency. We have designed guest-filled, twist-spun carbon nanotube yarns as electrolyte-free muscles that provide fast, high-force, large-stroke torsional and tensile actuation. More than a million torsional and tensile actuation cycles are demonstrated, wherein a muscle spins a rotor at an average 11,500 revolutions/minute or delivers 3% tensile contraction at 1200 cycles/minute. Electrical, chemical, or photonic excitation of hybrid yarns changes guest dimensions and generates torsional rotation and contraction of the yarn host. Demonstrations include torsional motors, contractile muscles, and sensors that capture the energy of the sensing process to mechanically actuate.

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