Terminator series' iconic villain, a vicious killer robot capable of morphing into liquid form and taking on various shapes and sizes, seems to get more real as the days go by. Chinese researchers have developed what they claimed to be the first liquid metal lattice in the world, demonstrating it by creating a series of prototypes that return to their shapes when crushed.
The liquid metal is made from Field’s alloy, which is currently used as a liquid-metal coolant in nuclear engineering. However, the team demonstrated other potential applications by integrating 3D printing, vacuum casting, and conformal coating.
New manufacturing process
Pu Zhang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, says, “We spent over half a year developing this manufacturing process because this new lattice material is very hard to process. You need to find the best materials and processing parameters."
"Without the shell, it won’t work, because the liquid metal will flow away. The shell skeleton controls the overall shape and integrity, so the liquid metal itself can be confined in the channels."
The team's prototypes regain their shapes after being heated to the melting point.
The prototypes include "spider-web"-like mesh antennas, honeycombs, soccer balls, and the letters of Bingham University mechanical engineering. Beware, tryphobia-inducing images are ahead.
In its solid state, liquid metal is safe and strong. It absorbs energy when crushed, and after some heating and cooling, it returns to its original shape and therefore, can be used again.
New possibilities for future settlements
The properties of the prototypes can be revolutionary for engineering since this new liquid metal could provide new possibilities for NASA and private companies.
This means that for example, structures for future settlements on the Moon or Mars could take up less room in the exploration vessel and then be expanded when astronauts reach their destination.
However, Zhang's final goal in mind is to build a liquid metal lattice robot, Binghamton University reports. “Our dream is to build a liquid metal lattice robot, and now we have a hand, so we’re one step further.”
Creepy. Hopefully, Skynet is not in the making.
The study will be published in Additive Manufacturing.