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A Shape-Shifting Robot

Scientists built a robot that can go from solid to liquid to solid again.

Three images showing a solid metal robot behind bars, then transitioning to liquid, then in front of the bars as a liquid.

Wang and Pan et al., Sun Yat-Sen University (CC BY-SA)

These images show how a shape-shifting robot was able to get through “prison bars” by going from solid to liquid.

A robot that can turn from solid to liquid and back to solid again has scientists excited for the future. The technology used to create the shape-shifting robot could allow scientists to build devices that can get into hard-to-reach places.

Scientists in the United States and China built the robot using a metal called gallium, which they embedded with tiny magnetic particles. Gallium has a melting point of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), which is low compared to other metals. Scientists can melt the robot into liquid by exposing the embedded particles to an alternating magnetic field. This creates electricity, which heats the metal. Scientists can then cool the metal to make it solid again. The magnetic particles also allow scientists to move the robot by putting external magnets near it.

Scientists have built plenty of robots from either hard or soft materials. But hard robots can’t always get into tight spots, while soft robots can be difficult to control. A shape-shifting robot is flexible when liquid but sturdy when solid. 

Scientists did several tests to determine what the robot could do. A video of one test shows the robot escaping from behind “prison bars.” In the video, the robot melts down, gets through the bars, and returns to a solid on the other side. In another test, scientists put a ball in a model of a human stomach and used the robot to remove the ball. The solid robot reached the ball, melted down, and wrapped itself around the ball. Then it became solid again and carried the ball out of the stomach. This test suggests that robots like these might be useful for removing harmful objects from the human body.

The technology could be used in many ways, but scientists are especially enthusiastic about its potential in the medical field.

Wang and Pan et al., Sun Yat-Sen University, under CC BY-SA

After the robot gets through the bars, the liquid fills a robot-shaped mold. It’s then cooled, causing it to become solid again.


Super Bowl First

Side by side of two football players in different uniforms about to throw a football

Elsa/Getty Images, Christian Peterson/Getty Images; Composite image Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left) and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts faced off in Super Bowl LVII.

On Sunday, February 12, millions of Americans watched the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII (Super Bowl 57). (Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the game: The Chiefs won.) The game was important in more ways than one. It marked the first time both teams had a Black starting quarterback. 

Patrick Mahomes was the quarterback for the Chiefs, while Jalen Hurts filled that role for the Eagles. As starting quarterbacks, both men led their team’s offense in football’s most important game of the year. Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl (in 1988), says it was a football milestone.

“You know, quarterback—it’s not about whether or not a Black guy could lead a team. It’s whether or not they’d get the opportunity to do it,” Williams told National Public Radio.

Did You Know?

© JD Duff Photography—Moment Video RF/Getty Images

The mimic octopus can make itself look like a flat fish.

Some animals are great shape-shifters. The mimic octopus can make itself look like a flat fish or a lionfish to escape predators. The lionfish scam works well because lionfish have stingers, making them a threat to many marine creatures that dare to approach.

Robotics at Work

At left, a teenage boy manipulates wires at a table with a glove and several other pieces of equipment. At right, a GIF shows a glove making a fist.

Courtesy of Juan Rafael Lenger-Caballero, © Biogen; Composite image Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Juan Rafael Lenger-Caballero works on his assistive gloves. The photo on the right shows how the gloves help move the wearer’s fingers.

Robotics technology can help people in all kinds of ways. A teenager named Juan Rafael Lenger-Caballero used his knowledge of soft robotics (a field of engineering in which robots are built from flexible materials) to build gloves that can help people who struggle with mobility. 

Lenger-Caballero was inspired to create the assistive gloves when he was 15 because he wanted to help his father, who has Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s can make movement difficult. The gloves created by Lenger-Caballero are motorized. They help the wearer move their fingers and grip objects.  

In 2022, Lenger-Caballero was invited to present the gloves at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) EurekaFest, an event honoring young inventors. The gloves had already won awards at other invention conventions. 

Now in his first year in college, Lenger-Caballero is planning a career in engineering. He says his goal is to help people, especially people with disabilities.

“If more students got involved in inventing, the world would be a much better place,” Lenger-Caballero said in an interview with a representative from MIT.  

Making It Work

Two young women use tools to put together a structure on a table.

© Monkey Business Images/

Want to make useful stuff? You might be interested in engineering. 

Find out at Britannica School!






— used to express excitement when a discovery has been made

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