The world may be oohing and awing over all the wonderful uses we're finding for graphene, but there's another super-material vying for the spotlight. Vanadium dioxide might eventually become a household name because in addition to revolutionising electronics, researchers have now discovered it can be used as an artificial muscle 1000 times stronger than our own.
Despite the unfortunate acronym of VD, vanadium dioxide is actually a wonderful material that works as an insulator at low temperatures, but suddenly becomes an efficient conductor at 67 degrees celsius. It's made possible by a change in the material's physical structure that can be harnessed to create movement, and eventually researchers believe VD could lead to faster and more energy-efficient electronics, as well as tiny machines and eventually robots that are more than strong enough to beat down a human uprising.
A team of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have build an extremely tiny muscle motor made from vanadium dioxide that's able to launch objects 50 times heavier than itself over distances five times its length. Pound-for-pound, the tiny spring-like device is 1000 times more powerful than a human muscle, and it moves faster than the blink of an eye.
So while the slow and methodical robots competing at the DARPA challenge this past weekend let us all breathe a collective sigh of relief that the robot rebellion is nowhere near, this latest breakthrough is a solemn reminder that it's still inevitable. [Berkeley Lab via Newlaunches]