Shape-shifting liquid metals that can be manipulated to form different structures are about to become reality, according to researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
Led by Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, a group from the School of Engineering at RMIT is working on soft circuit systems that act like live cells, move around autonomously and communicating with each other.
If the notion sounds familiar it’s probably because we’ve all seen this idea in practise before.
It didn’t work out that great last time though – to say the least – as the idea comes from Terminator 2’s shape-shifting T-1000.
“Eventually, using the fundamentals of this discovery, it may be possible to build a 3D liquid metal humanoid on demand – like the T-1000 Terminator but with better programming,” said Kalantar-zadeh.
As well as building an autonomous T-1000, the researchers believe that liquid metal has potential applications in a range of industries including smart engineering solutions and biomedicine.
To get to that stage the RMIT engineers have been immersing liquid metal droplets in water that has had its concentrations of acid, base and salt components adjusted.
“Simply tweaking the water’s chemistry made the liquid metal droplets move and change shape, without any need for external mechanical, electronic or optical stimulants,” said Kalantar-zadeh.
“Using this discovery, we were able to create moving objects, switches and pumps that could operate autonomously – self-propelling liquid metals driven by the composition of the surrounding fluid.”
Modern electronics like smart phones and computers are mainly based on circuits that use solid state components, with fixed metallic tracks and semiconducting devices.
The researchers’ work will go a long way to creating elastic electronic components that can be manipulated to create new circuits, rather than be stuck in one arrangement.
The precise conditions in which liquid metals can be moved or stretched are detailed in Nature Communications.