Researchers create polymer artificial muscle that can heal itself

4 May 2016

Image of the stretchable autonomous self-healing polymer. Image via Zhenan Bao

Researchers from the US and China have teamed up to develop an elastic polymer that is able to mimic the properties of animal muscles, such as being flexible and self-healing, and is stable at room temperature.

The development of artificial muscle can be seen as one part of a multifaceted approach to medicine and artificial intelligence, with potential uses to replace or repair damaged muscles in humans, or even be used as the outer casing for future, highly-advanced robotic endoskeletons.

Animal muscle, including our own, is necessary to perform everyday functions, and is also able to endure particularly high levels of strain due to its elasticity, but it must also heal to be able to do this over and over again during a lifetime.

To that end, a collaboration of researchers from Stanford, Nanjing University, UC Riverside, Harvard, and the University of Colorado, has announced a rather important breakthrough in the development of such technology, which is not only strong and flexible, but stable, too.

According to, the team has now published its findings in Nature Chemistry, detailing an elastic polymer that uses highly-advanced ligand 2,6-pyridinedicarboxamide (pdca) binds tethered to a polymer backbone.

Subjected to stretching and puncturing, but comes out fine

The researchers realised that they could make this potential future muscle stretch and heal by having bonds of multiple strengths next to each other, allowing for the weaker bonds to readily break and re-form.

During testing, this new artificial muscle was stretched and rested for an hour, before being stretched again, only to find that it had almost fully recovered, something which has not been seen in other polymers until now.

The material was also subjected to puncturing and, after a period of 72 hours, the marked puncture locations had shown little-to-no damage, despite high voltage running through it.

Similarly groundbreaking for this discovery was the fact that this test had achieved what others had not before, that being, a polymer stable at room temperature and not highly sensitive to water.

As for where this artificial muscle can go in terms of future research, the team says it will look into being able to fine-tune the polymer to suit different needs.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic