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Gizmorama - September 20, 2017

Good Morning,

The University of Houston has developed an artificial skin that can sense difference in temperature. Robots may soon have the sense of touch at their disposal.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Artificial skin gives robotic hand the sense of touch --*

Researchers at the University of Houston have developed artificial skin which gives a sense of touch to robotic hands.

The research, published today in Science Advances, is considered a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing robotic hands to sense the difference between hot and cold temperatures.

The study is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality after the material is stretched by 50 percent.

"Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost," Cunjiang Yu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, said in a press release.

The researchers created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced cold water in a cup. The result was the skin was able to interpret the computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as American Sign Language.

"The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read," Yu said.

Researchers prepared the stretchable composite semiconductor using a silicon-based polymer called polydimethylsiloxane and tiny nanowires to make a solution, which hardened into a material that used the nanowires to transport electric current.

"We foresee that this strategy of enabling elastomeric semiconductors by percolating semiconductor nanofibrils into a rubber will advance the development of stretchable semiconductors," the researchers wrote in the study, suggesting it will "move forward the advancement of stretchable electronics for a wide range of applications, such as artificial skins, biomedical implants and surgical gloves."

*-- Graphene makes spider silk even stronger --*

Scientists have made spider silk stronger and tougher by enhancing it with carbon nanotubes -- tiny, rolled-up sheets of graphene.

Researchers created the new material by spraying spiders and their living quarters with graphene and carbon nanotube solutions. When scientists tested the spider silk, they confirmed the spiders had ingested the graphene and incorporated the nanomaterials into their silk.

Mechanical testing proved the graphene-enhanced silk was three-times stronger and 10-times as tough. The biocomposite silk threads also boasted improved elasticity.

Researchers believe the new extra-strong threads could be used to make high-performance or biodegradable textiles, like a parachute or surgical suture.

"Humans have used silkworm silks widely for thousands of years, but recently research has focused on spider silk, as it has promising mechanical properties," Nicola Pugno, a material scientist at the University of Trento in Italy, said in a news release. "It is among the best spun polymer fibers in terms of tensile strength, ultimate strain, and especially toughness, even when compared to synthetic fibers such as Kevlar."

Often, material scientists attempt to replicate natural products in the lab. The latest experiments showcase the benefits of harnessing and enhancing natural materials.

"This is the highest fiber toughness reported to date, and a strength comparable to that of the strongest carbon fibers or limpet teeth," said Pugno.

Researchers described their feat this week in the journal 2D Materials.


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