In a surprising breakthrough for the world of materials science, researchers have created some of the most powerful artificial muscles we've ever seen. And they did it with simple fishing line. These freakishly strong and cheap muscles could revolutionize robotics, and perhaps one day our own bodies.

Ray Baughman, director of the NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas, has spent much of his career trying to buildartificial muscles out expensive, cutting-edge materials like carbon nanotubes. But Baughman's team recently discovered that elegant solutions can come in cheap and easy packages: the answers to many of their research questions could be bought for $5 at a local tackle shop. Sometimes, scientific discoveries are just a matter of rethinking how we use something that's part of our everyday lives.
Above: A "breathing" textile, engineered from Baughman's team's new artificial musculature

A Clever Twist on Old Technology

How do you get muscle out of a fishing line? First, you have to create tension that can be released.
It's a simple process that goes by an equally simple moniker: "twist insertion." Researchers led by Baughman describe the technique in detail in this week's issue of Science, but the gist is as straightforward as it sounds. One end of a high-strength polymer fiber (like a 50 pound test-line, for example, available at pretty much any sporting goods store) is held fast, while the other is weighted and twisted. Twist a little and the line becomes an artificial "torsional" muscle that exerts energy by spinning. Twist a lot, however, and something interesting happens: the cord coils over on itself, creating an ordered series of stacking loops:
Scientists just created some of the most powerful muscles in existence
There's a decent chance you've seen this kind of looping before, maybe while twiddling your shoelace, a length of excess yarn, or – who knows? – a fishing line between your thumb and forefinger. Another good example, Baughman tells io9, is a rubber-band-powered plane. "If you finger-spin the propeller, initially what you see is that the rubber band just twists," he says, "but if you add more twist you get these nucleated coils."