Reconfigurable Liquid Metal

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Terminator 2’s T-1000, a liquid metal robot capable of changing its shape at will, just became a little less far-fetched. Researchers at NC State have reported a new method for controlling the form of a liquid gallium alloy. Surface tension governs the shape a liquid assumes when it is not confined by a container, and, although adding surfactants can slightly lower the surface tension, it does not substantially alter the liquid’s shape. Adding soap to water lets one make bubbles, but surface tension keeps the bubbles spherical no matter how much soap you add. Instead, these researchers control the surface tension of the liquid metal using a mild voltage. Applying a voltage creates (or removes) an oxide layer on the liquid metal’s surface, thereby altering the surface tension. By controlling the formation of the oxide layer, the researchers can change the surface tension from approximately 7x that of water to nearly zero. The video above demonstrates some of the liquid shape control this lets them achieve.  (VIdeo credit: M. Dickey et al.; research: M. Khan et al.; via PopSci)

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