With funds from an institution called the EPSRC, researchers from two UK universities have managed to create shape-shifting, programmable liquid metal, that could have advanced applications in the future.

Researchers from the University of Sussex and Swansea University created shapes such as a heart, and letters out of liquid metal using electrical charges.

They say the findings open a door to an “extremely promising” new class of materials that can be precisely programmed to make certain shapes, even “open up new possibilities in ‘soft robotics’ and shape-changing displays.”

According to the Daily Accord:

“While the invention might bring to mind the film Terminator 2, in which the villain morphs out of a pool of liquid metal, the creation of 3D shapes is still some way off. More immediate applications could include reprogrammable circuit boards and conductive ink.”

A research associate working on the project named Yutaka Tokuda said:

“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 electrical fields that play a key role in shaping the liquid metal are computer generated: so the exact shape and position of the material can be dynamically controlled, programmed.

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 findings were presented last month in Brighton, at the ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces 2017 conference.

So when you learn about a discovery like this, you’d want to know exactly who funded the project, right?

Upon investigating who is funding this, it becomes a little complex. The entity known as EPSRC, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded it: but who funds them? They are a British Research Council that gives government funding for grants toward developing things such as artificial intelligence, computer science, and mathematics, according to Wikipedia.

A sort of complex hierarchy of grant-giving government institutions in the UK is responsible for funding this: so essentially this is being funded by the UK government, and therefore they will probably be the first ones with access to the technology. The institution in charge of the EPSRC is apparently the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. According to Wikipedia:

“The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is a government department, which was created by Theresa May on 14 July 2016 following her appointment as Prime Minister, created as a result of a merger between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. BEIS will bring together responsibility for business, industrial strategy, and science and innovation with energy and climate change policy, merging the functions of the former BIS and DECC.”

Hopefully regular people will have access to  this technology, to freely do with it what they will.


(Image credit: The Tech Reader)