Liquid Metal Brings Soft Robotics One Step Closer to Terminator 2
In 1991, Terminator 2 introduced us to a “soft” robot made from then-futuristic shape-shifting technology arrived from the future — seemingly impervious to all weapons.
The special effects were stunning; the morphing metal shone like chrome and flowed like water. Bullets passed through the self-healing material as if it were butter.
Fast-forward to March 2018. Researchers at the University of Sussex in England have applied electrical charges to “liquid metal” allowing them to manipulate the material into 2-D shapes — so far, simple numbers and letters.
A computer controls the electrical activity so that the metal is programmable and dynamic. Simple, but with far-reaching implications for the soft robotics field.
Professor Sriram Subramanian, project head, said,“Liquid metal technologies are an extremely promising class of materials for deformable applications. One of our long-term visions is a programmable liquid metal that changes 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.”
While a liquid metal terminator androids are a good ways off, researchers are considering possibilities like re-programmable circuit boards and conductive ink.
“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,” said Research Associate Yutaka Tokuda.
A New Phase of Matter Appears to Defy Laws of Thermodynamics
Scientists have created a new phase of matter known as time crystals, a quantum phenomenon appearing to defy the laws of thermodynamics. Could this discovery upend our understanding of classical physics?
A team of researchers developing Google’s Sycamore quantum computer announced the successful creation of a time crystal that lasted for 100 seconds. This novel phase of matter appears to defy the second law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy, or chaos and disorder, always increases in an isolated system. In other words, energy must be put into a system in order to maintain structure or motion. But time crystals have been observed to maintain a constant state of flux, without losing any energy.
Dr. Simeon Hein, director of the Institute for Resonance, explains the science behind this strange phenomenon.
“Crystals are in everything we do—they’re in watches—they’re in so many things because they’re regular, they create evenness, they create this consistency. And just like their pattern is very consistent, the energy that crystals transmit turns into a very regular pattern which is why you can use a quartz crystal in a watch,’ Dr. Hein said.
“You can put a noisy electrical signal in but it will come out as a very consistent beat, and that created the idea for some people, in this case, Frank Wilczek from M.I.T. in 2012, to propose the idea that you not only had crystals in space, you could have crystals in time. You could create an oscillating circuit, using specific quantum principles, you could create a very constant quantum beat.”
Time crystals have been described as the first “out-of-equilibrium” phase of matter, meaning they maintain order while in an excited state. But how do time crystals accomplish this, without expending energy?
“At a quantum level, they’re getting energy from something called the Zero-point energy field. The Zero-point energy field is the lowest ground state of quantum matter, but the lowest state doesn’t mean absolute zero like nothing’s happening. The quantum ground state is actually the base state of the universe, where even though there’s nothing happening, the field itself generates energy, causing random fluctuations and particles to pop out of nowhere, and all sorts of really interesting effects that normally, I should say most of the time, we don’t see in our regular, physical reality,” Dr. Hein said.
“So these coherently entangled particles would be deriving their energy from the quantum vacuum field. But if they’re getting their energy from the quantum vacuum, instead of our classical world, you can’t see any reason why they would eventually have to wind down like our regular clocks would, and energy would dissipate.”
With this new discovery of time crystals appearing to defy the second law of thermodynamics, how has mainstream science reacted, or tried to reconcile this paradox?
“A lot of these quantum phenomena seem to defy classical physics, the whole idea of quantum entanglement suggests faster than light interaction or communication, Einstein called it ‘spooky action at a distance,’ and experiments later confirmed that you could take pairs of particles and separate them, and you could do something to one of them, and the other particle would immediately react at farther and farther distances away,” Dr. Hein said.