ECE Professor John Muth Produce Fibers that Mimic Human Muscle

June 11, 2007

Dr. John Muth, NC State ECE Department
Dr. John Muth, NC State ECE Department

Dr. John Muth, an ECE Associate Professor, and his colleague Dr. Tushar Ghosh, a Textiles professor, have discovered plastic tubule structures that can be manipulated by electricity to behave similar to how muscle fibers act.  Such a discovery paves the way for advancements in such fields as robotics, prosthetics, biotechnology, and "smart textiles".

While electroactive polymers - plastics that can expand and contact when a current is applied - have been successfully demonstrated previously, the duo has shown for the first time that plastic tube structures in the shape of human muscle strands can be manipulated with electricity.

 Muth and Ghosh used polyurethane and silicone tubes in their experiments. The tubes exhibited movements and produce forces similar to that of human muscle when a current was applied to them. The tubes, roughly the size of a pencil lead, are the first artificial muscle-like fibers produced in a lab.  Their next goal is to scale the fibers down to the size of muscle fibers.

Dr. Tushar K. Ghosh, NC State Textiles Professor
Dr. Tushar K. Ghosh, NC State Textiles Professor

"We have developed a fiber at a large scale and demonstrated that you can generate significant levels of force.  The muscles in our bodies are made of fibers, and if we can mimic those fibers, get them down to scale and bundle them in the same way, we believe we can make very useful devices with them," says Ghosh.

"We've been interested in these ideas of being able to control the shapes of fabrics using electricity or some other forces for some time.  There are a wide variety of potential uses for these types of fibers. A good next step would be to reduce the size of these fibers to a smaller scale," Muth says.

Muth and Ghosh's work, funded by a three-year grant from the National Textiles Center, was published in the journal Sensors and Actuators.  

Article adapted from news.ncsu.edu and mentioned at Engadget.