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Think the T-1000 Terminator is just science fiction? Think again!

Robert Patrick as the T-1000 Terminator
2 minute read
Robert Patrick as the T-1000 Terminator

A study published in the journal Matter demonstrates robots that can switch between solid and Liquid Metal forms with "Magnetoactive Liquid-Solid Phase Transitional Matter."

In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, there's a famous scene where John Connor and the T-800 Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, break out Sarah Connor from a secure psychiatric hospital. In hot pursuit is the T-1000, a new type of Terminator made from what the film calls a "mimetic polyalloy". The T-1000 can imitate pretty much any form of a similar volume, being constructed from a form of liquid metal.

In the sequence described above, the T-1000 is blocked by a secure metal barred gate. And in one of the most iconic sequence of the movie, it uses its shape shifting abilities to 'melt' through the obstacle. This is, of course, science fiction... However, take a look at the video below, which is the result of research by a team at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Magnetoactive Liquid-Solid Phase Transitional Matter

The new development doesn't have quite the same ring as "mimetic polyalloy", but instead the researchers are calling it "Magnetoactive Liquid-Solid Phase Transitional Matter", or MPTM for short.

The researchers state, "... they (MPTMs) uniquely combine high mechanical strength (strength, 21.2 MPa; stiffness, 1.98 GPa), high load capacity (able to bear 30 kg), and fast locomotion speed (>1.5 m/s) in the solid phase with excellent morphological adaptability (elongation, splitting, and merging) in the liquid phase."

Apparently, the inspiration for the research came not from watching Robert Patrick morphing his way through a helicopter windshield, but from, err, sea cucumbers. Because apparently they are the real life T-1000s, being able to turn from being very soft to being very solid.

Now, may of the videos produced by the team are sped up. It appears the process of switching between liquid and solid states isn't hugely fast, but it does demonstrate the concept very well indeed. Will the next stop be a time travelling killer robot? No, but the technology does have some rather intriguing practical potential.

The team envisage situations where the technology could be used to perform smart soldering operations on circuit boards in difficult to reach areas. Furthermore, in manufacturing, for hard to reach attachment points it could be used to insert itself into screw threaded holes without the need for a screwdriver.

One of the more interesting potential uses is in a bio-mechanical context. The team have tested the technology on a model stomach to remove a foreign object, as well as to deliver a drug directly to that same stomach.

Clearly this is all still very much in the early stages, but it does demonstrate one thing very clearly indeed. Just when you thought modern science couldn't become any closer to some of the more outlandish science fiction stories, developments like this happen and we realise that we are living in very interesting times indeed.

Read the full research results and summary at Cell.com.

Tags: Technology