Take the muscle. While previous generations of artificial muscles were made with motors, Naguib’s uses very fine, lightweight fibres that contain “memory material.” He can train his material to “remember” certain shapes. When he activates a small electrical charge, the material moves into a shape it has been programmed to remember — a hand making a fist, for example.
All of Naguib’s work is based on a deceptively simple principle — exploiting the existing properties of materials.
“Imagine if I put rubber in the freezer,” he says by way of analogy. “It would become really stiff. I could take rubber and make into any shape I want. If I put it in the freezer, it will retain that shape.”
Of course, Naguib’s lab isn’t full of rubber balls and freezers. He and his team work with nano- and micro-structures, eventually scaling up to build prototypes when they have a hit.
Some of the lab’s recent projects include:
- Smart wearables that have sensing and battery-like capabilities.
- Electronic skin that is self-healing (ultimately for going over those artificial muscles).
- Stents and surgical tools that are inserted in a patient as a thin wire and then open once they’re in place, making the surgical implantation less traumatic.
- Sponge-like materials for drug delivery that “squeeze” and release liquid drugs when they’ve reached the right spot in the body.
This problem-based method is also at the heart of the Toronto Institute for Advanced Manufacturing, which Naguib directs (see below).
“The idea is to bring research all the way to final products that have impact,” he says. “We’re looking to make long term benefits to society.”