There really is “THE BLOB” now, well sort of, anyway. Scientists in China have invented a liquid metal that shape-shift’s and can move itself around a course.
It is made from a metal alloy, which is mostly gallium. This metal melts to a liquid state at just under 86°F, with some indium and tin mixed in. With just a single flake of aluminum that acts as fuel, you can get about an hour of movement.
“The soft machine looks rather intelligent and [can] deform itself according to the space it voyages in, just like Terminator does from the science-fiction film,” says Jing Liu from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. “These unusual behaviors perfectly resemble the living organisms in nature,” he says, adding that they raise questions about the definition of life.
“The metal is placed in a solution of sodium hydroxide—a less fancy version even works on plain old brine—and is ‘fed’ an aluminum flake, which merges with the metal. The reaction caused by the merge produces bubbles, and these create a ‘flow field’ that push the metal along the twists and turns of a specially made track,” wrote Michael Slezak from New Scientist.
Watch the self-fueled liquid metal motor at work:
The aluminum reaction allows the metal to condense and change into different shapes so it can fit through the corners and openings of the track. If you place an electrical current in there, you get even stranger shapes until the current turns off. Then the metal instantly returns to its droplet form.
Researchers have shown that a stationary gallium drop will act as a pump when it’s in an electric field.
Liu showed that if their self-powered motor was held still, it would become a pump too, moving about 50 milliliters of water every second.
“It’s the first ever self-powered pump,” he says. The scientists say that it could have immediate applications for moving liquid without an external power source.
“The work is part of a long-term effort to create intelligent robots that are non-rigid and so can be reshaped on the fly, a bit like the fictional T-1000,” Liu says.
It will be interesting to watch how this develops.