In a terrifying breakthrough similar to the metal morphing villain in Terminator 2, scientists at the University of Sussex and Swansea University have discovered a way to apply electrical charges to liquid metal and coax it into 3D shapes such as letters and even a heart.
This discovery has been called an “extremely promising” new kind of material that can be programmed to alter its shape.
Yutaka Tokuda, the Research Associate, working on this project at the University of Sussex, says: “This is a new class of programmable materials in a liquid state which can dynamically transform from a simple droplet shape to many other complex geometry in a controllable manner.
“While this work is in its early stages, the compelling evidence of detailed 2D control of liquid metals excites us to explore more potential applications in computer graphics, smart electronics, soft robotics and flexible displays.”
The scientists used electric fields to shape the liquid; these areas are created by a computer meaning that both the position and form of the liquid metal can be manipulated dynamically.
Professor Sriram Subramanian, head of the INTERACT Lab at the University of Sussex, said: “Liquid metals are an extremely promising class of materials for deformable applications; their unique properties include voltage-controlled surface tension, high liquid-state conductivity and liquid-solid phase transition at room temperature.
One of the long-term visions of us and many other researchers is to change the physical shape, appearance, and functionality of any object through digital control to create intelligent, dexterous and useful objects that exceed the functionality of any current display or robot.”
The research was presented last month at the ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces 2017 conference in Brighton.
Carnegie Mellon Metal Alloy
This development is not the only one to emerge within the science community, research engineers at Carnegie Mellon University have created a new metal alloy that exists in a liquid state at room temperature and can capacitate liquid metal transistors, flexible circuitry and perhaps even self-repairing circuits in the far-flung future.
Created at the Soft Machines Lab at Carnegie Mellon by researchers Carmel Majidi, Michael Dickey, and James Wissman, this alloy is the result of a marrying of indium and gallium. It would only take two drops of this liquid metal to form or break a circuit thereby opening or closing an entry, similar to a traditional transistor.Better yet, it only requires a voltage of 1 - 10 volts.
These molten metals or “electronic blood” are set to completely change computing for upcoming generations. IBM has also been developing its own form of electric sustenance since 2013, REPCOOL, or Redox flow electrochemistry for power delivery and cooling, is a project modeled after the structure and power supply of the brain, where our blood capillary system both cools and supplies energy to this vital organ. With electronic blood, the researchers believe the same effect can be applied to overheated computers.
"Compared to today's top computers, however, the human brain is roughly 10,000 times denser and 10,000 times more energy-efficient. The research team believes that their approach could reduce the size of a computer with a performance of 1 petaflop/s from the dimensions of a school classroom to that of an average PC, or in other words to a volume of about 10 liters," said Dr. Bruno Michel from IBM Research.
The first applications of this Electronic Blood should take place in 2030.