If you were to ask an angler how strong a particular fishing line is, the answer would come in the form of weights. If you were to ask a group of researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas however, they would say it comes in times. As in 100 times more powerful than human muscle.
In a study published on Friday in the journal Science, researchers found that the material in common fishing lines—polyethylene and nylon string—are incredibly strong when coiled under high tension.
“The coiling process is actually quite trivial,” Materials Scientist Ray Baughman told Popular Mechanics. “We’re getting high school students to do it—you just have to pay attention to how much tension and weight you apply to the thread you’re twisting. I’m not sure why no one else has ever discovered this before.”
In the study, researchers took the materials found in everyday fishing line and twisted them into a coil until the material could not twist anymore. The coil is then heated, which causes it to expand and attempt to untwist. Researchers say this causes it to paradoxically contract instead.
“At first it seems confusing, but you can think of it kind of like a Chinese finger-trap,” Baughman said.
In essence, the fiber now acts like a muscle controlled by heat. When compared to human muscle of the same length and weight, these artificial fibers can lift more than 100 times what its human counterpart can. The natural formation of polyethylene and nylon make the coil extraordinarily powerful, and according to the study, generate enough mechanical work per kilogram of muscle to rival that of a jet engine. Unlike a jet engine though, these artificial muscles are not made out of any super material. Although scientists have not specified the type of fishing lines used in the study, they claim these are everyday materials easily bought at a local store. The Los Angeles Times reported that other materials eyed for use as artificial muscles such as carbon nanotube yarns or metal wires are often expensive and inefficient.
With the affordability of the materials found in fishing lines, scientists say they can apply the technology to anything from adaptable clothing to stronger construction material, and even actual artificial muscle in humans and robots. You can see a demonstration of the super-muscle below.