Liquid Metal Terminator Development Hums Right Along
More nifty materials science bringing our dream of universal Armageddon via shape-shifting liquid metal robots ever closer.
(Oh Terminator how we long to give you birth)
A simple, liquid-metal alloy formed from gallium, iridium, and tin can be electrically controlled to form complex shapes or run laps in a Petri dish. To say it’s like the robot villain from Terminator 2 is not hyperbolic. Jing Liu of Tsinghua University, one of the researchers who worked on the project, which was based in Beijing, China, said, “The soft machine looks rather intelligent and [can] deform itself according to the space it voyages in, just like [the] Terminator does from the science-fiction film.” The metal is biomimetic, meaning it mimics biochemical reactions, though it isn’t biological itself.
Electrical currents can guide the material, but it runs under its own power, driven in part by a charge imbalance that creates a pressure differential between the front and back of each drop of the alloy. While this process is speculated to be the key to converting chemical power into mechanical power, the molecular material won’t be turning evil and robotic just yet. The entire process can only occur in a solution of sodium hydroxide or brine.
Fans of science fiction films of course recall those liquid metal T-1000 terminators from the 1991 movie Terminator 2:
John Connor: So this other guy: he's a Terminator like you, right?
The Terminator: Not like me. A T-1000, advanced prototype.
John Connor: You mean more advanced than you are?
The Terminator: Yes. A mimetic poly-alloy.
John Connor: What the hell does that mean?
The Terminator: Liquid metal.
Philip K. Dick fans may be thinking (as do our friends at Frolix_8) of the machine (the "M") from his 1957 short story The Unreconstructed M. This enigmatic machine can transform itself at will into apparently innocent objects - but it's only waiting to strike.