When I saw this story on shape-shifting antennas that use liquid metal injected into elastomeric microchannels, I had to laugh just a little. Robert Heinlein wrote about something very similar to this. But first, look at the device created by North Carolina State University researchers.
Modern antennas are made from copper or other metals, but there are limitations to how far they can be bent – and how often – before they break completely. NC State scientists have created antennas using an alloy that “can be bent, stretched, cut and twisted – and will return to its original shape,” says Dr. Michael Dickey, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of the research.
The antenna consists of liquid metal injected into elastomeric microchannels. The antennas can be deformed (twisted and bent) since the mechanical properties are dictated by the elastomer and not the metal.
The researchers make the new antennas by injecting an alloy made up of the metals gallium and indium, which remains in liquid form at room temperature, into very small channels the width of a human hair. The channels are hollow, like a straw, with openings at either end – but can be any shape. Once the alloy has filled the channel, the surface of the alloy oxidizes, creating a “skin” that holds the alloy in place while allowing it to retain its liquid properties.
“Because the alloy remains a liquid,” Dickey says, “it takes on the mechanical properties of the material encasing it.” For example, the researchers injected the alloy into elastic silicone channels, creating wirelike antennas that are incredibly resilient and that can be manipulated into a variety of shapes. “This flexibility is particularly attractive for antennas because the frequency of an antenna is determined by its shape,” says Dickey. “So you can tune these antennas by stretching them [my italics].”
In his excellent 1942 novella Waldo, Heinlein draws on the idea of broadcast power. The aircars (including the amazing broomstick speedster) use standard, rigid antennas to draw power.
As the story progresses, the deKalb antennas mysteriously fail to function. When one of them is fixed by a "hex doctor", engineers go to investigate.
"What!" put in Stevens. "You don't mean to stand there and tell me an old witch doctor fixed your deKalbs."
"Not witch doctor - hex doctor..."
The skycar looked quite ordinary. Stevens examined the deKalbs and saw some faint chalk marks on their metal sides... "Watch while I cut in reception."
Stevens waited, heard the faint hum as the circuits became activized and looked.
The antennae of the deKalbs, each a rigid pencil or metal, were bending, flexing, writhing like a cluster of worms. They were reaching out, like fingers...
(Read more about Heinlein's broadcast power receptors)
If you haven't read Waldo, treat yourself. Heinlein is a master storyteller; even this early in his career, he created a tour de force story that combined space travel with the classic American supernatural folk tale.
From NC State press release via Next Big Future.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/2/2009)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )
Related News Stories -
3D Printing Of Metallic Glass
Draw Circuits With Conductive Ink
'It's rewiring things... squeezing silver toothpaste in a ribbon along the printed circuitry.'
How To Encode The 'Memory' Of Materials
'Just jar it, and it falls into that structure like a rubber figure returning to shape.' - Samuel R. Delany, 1966.
Surface Film Repels All Bacteria
'Most gentlemen's and ladies' gloves nowadays were constructed of infinitesimal fabricules that knew how to eject dirt...'- Neal Stephenson, 1995
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Sci-Fi Helps Young Readers Build Resiliency
'Reading science fiction and fantasy can help readers make sense of the world.'
I Want My 1928 Telestereo Hologram Now
'Instantly there appeared standing upon the disk, the image of a man...'
Memes Now Come From Neural Nets
'Your order said for him to be able to be able to work out twists on the gags in the file...'
Robot Dog Learns To Be Doggy From Real Dogs
'So we took pictures of Guzub making a Three Planets, and I could construct this one to do it exactly right down to the thousandth of a second.'
Unwanted Cruise Ships Huddle Together Out At Sea
'On the screen they passed in an endless, boundaryless flood of green specks...'
Sono Sion Electric Car Charges As You Drive
'It drew its power from six square yards of sunpower screens on its low curved roof.'
News Mood Filter Web Extension
'He adjusted the n, the r and b knobs, and hopefully anticipated a turn for the better...'
Fetal Lamb Rests In Artificial Womb
'... stewing warm on their cushion of peritoneum and gorged with blood-surrogate and hormones, the foetuses grew and grew...'
MIT Wants To Catch Interstellar Visitors
'INVESTIGATE MYSTERIOUS OBJECT ENTERING NEW CALEDONIA SYSTEM FROM NORMAL SPACE'
AutoX Sets Up Asia's Largest Robotaxi Center
'The robot cab seemed to know where it was going and, no doubt, the master machine from which it received its signals knew.'
E - Ink's Automatic Self Styling Color-Changing Dress
'The racks of gowns itched and quivered, their colors running into blurred pools.'
Soft Robots Use Kirigami Piezoelectric Sensor Skin
'A worthy opponent was the golem.'
Bosch Smartglasses Laser Paints AR Image On Your Retina
'Soon we'll be testing a system that projects directly on the retina of the eye.'
Maybe We Could Hibernate Until The Covid-19 Pandemic's End
'Cold-rest was a common last resort therapy for functional psychoses.'
Workplace Monitoring Hell, I Mean, Tool For Safe Distancing
'And here is the weirdest part -- I never see another employee the entire day.'
Patent Office Says AIs Cannot Be Inventors
'The real smart ones are as smart as the Turing heat is willing to let 'em get.'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories