A team of researchers at North Carolina State decided it’d take too long for Skynet to create T-1000 shapeshifting metal, so they’ve gone ahead and made things a whole lot easier.
It’s not quite to the point of being a Terminator 2-level killing machine, but the research team has created an amazingly cool liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium that can reshape itself in a way that is eerily similar to the nigh-unstoppable robot that still haunts our dreams.
As Gizmodo notes, the team discovered that by applying a very low voltage to the metal, they could control and manipulate the surface tension. That tension usually makes liquid metals bead up into spheres, but the applied voltage instead caused the material to succumb to gravity and flatten/turn into Robert Patrick.
By studying further, the team determined that by flipping from negative to positive the liquid metal returns to a spherical shape. Here’s what the project’s senior author, NC State associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Michael Dickey, had to say about the experiment:
“But we discovered that applying a small, positive charge – less than 1 volt – causes an electrochemical reaction that creates an oxide layer on the surface of the metal, dramatically lowering the surface tension from 500 mN/meter to around 2 mN/meter. This change allows the liquid metal to spread out like a pancake, due to gravity …
The resulting changes in surface tension are among the largest ever reported, which is remarkable considering it can be manipulated by less than one volt. We can use this technique to control the movement of liquid metals, allowing us to change the shape of antennas and complete or break circuits. It could also be used in microfluidic channels, MEMS, or photonic and optical devices. Many materials form surface oxides, so the work could extend beyond the liquid metals studied here.”
As far as practical applications (aside from killer robots) are concerned, researchers believe the tech could eventually be used to change the way circuits are produced — or even change the design of an antenna when the signal is too weak.