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FUN FACT: Liquid Metal Robot Can Melt, Move, and Reform

Fiona Shan | January 30, 2023

Scientists have engineered a “liquid metal” robot that can reform after melting

From everyday life to medicine and industries that require sophisticated tools and approaches, robots are able to perform tasks that are impossible for humans. Recently, scientists designed a robot, composed of liquid metal and tiny magnetic pieces, that can melt and reform into its original shape under a magnetic field. This robot could potentially be used to fix electronics or remove objects from the body!

What makes this robot special?

In one video provided by the researchers, one can see the robot melting to flow out of a cage, magically regaining its solid shape outside. The trick of melting and reforming is made possible by a smart combination of materials. The robot contains liquid metal (e.g. gallium) and magnet-like elements that can respond to magnetic fields (e.g. iron). Outside of a magnetic field, the robot is solid and strong enough to bear objects 30 times its mass. In the presence of a magnetic field, however, the little magnets in the liquid metal can be dragged and vibrated, deforming  the once-solid metal to liquid. The removal of the magnetic field subsequently reverts it to its solid form.

Why is this design important?

Nowadays, many instruments used in industries contain tiny components that are impossible for humans to reach. More importantly, there remain regions in the human body that are unreachable without irreversible harm. The robots introduced here can wedge through tiny spaces in liquid form, allowing access to these components and regions and thus opening up new ways for machine repair and surgery.

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Research article