Physics

Research team uses artificial muscles to develop an air conditioner for the future

It can be used to cool or heat the air in a room or to cool or heat liquids. And it looks like something that Q—the tech specialist and gadgeteer in the James Bond films—might have come up with. The prototype device, which has been developed by a research team led by Professors Stefan Seelecke and Andreas Schütze at Saarland University, is able to transfer heat using 'muscles' made from nickel-titanium. Nickel-titanium or nitinol, as it is often known, is a shape-memory material that releases heat to its surroundings when it is mechanically loaded in its superelastic state and absorbs heat from its surroundings when it is unloaded. This unusual property is the reason why nitinol is also referred to as a 'smart alloy' or as 'muscle wire." This effect has been exploited by the Saarbrücken researchers who have developed an environmentally friendly heating and cooling system that is two to three times more efficient than conventional heating and cooling devices.