Smart muscle: can smart materials mimic human muscle?


Humans are always evolving and adapting, especially when it comes to developing new technologies.  There are many instances of humans using technology to adapt their bodies.  Can smart materials be used to mimic human muscle?

Students will test a ‘smart spring’ and try to develop ideas to use the technology in a prosthetic or robotic arm. This activity can really bring science and design technology together, and highlights just how important and diverse engineering is.

This is a great activity for STEM Clubs or classes. The initial experiment can be done in one session. The activity can be extended to several weeks by including the design and make focused task.


What you'll need

  • A 'smart' spring and wire holders with posts - these are available at - product codes PAC SW3 and 211-011
  • Wires 
  • Boss, stand, clamp
  • Stopwatch
  • 6V power supply
  • Masses (variety of sizes)

What to do

Working in groups, students should use the diagrams in the resource to help them to set up an experiment which uses an electrical current to test masses on a spring.  They should investigate whether the speed at which the spring contracts is affected by the amount of mass and use a stopwatch to measure the time taken for the spring to contract.  Does the spring always go back to its original shape?  How could they use what they have learnt to make an artificial muscle for robots?

The resource contains lots of questions to ask of students when they are doing this activity as well as extension activities, explanations and handy hints for those delivering the activity.  It also has a case study of someone who uses prosthetic technologies in their everyday job.

Engineering is ...

... understanding a vast range of smart materials and using them to find solutions to problems is just one dynamic aspect of engineering.

Engineers with an interest in design create the initial ideas and ‘blueprints’ for systems, structures and products, testing models rigorously to ensure they work, using computer aided design to help. Materials engineers develop new products and improve existing ones. Have a look at related university courses at

Entry requirements include A Levels, Advanced Diplomas and Scottish Advanced Highers.

Related fields: Mechanical engineering

There are many apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing technologies. It is a very broad field. Some of the main manufacturing industries covered include textiles, food, furniture, glass, metals and printing. Visit for more details.

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