Using 'smart fluids' to retrain muscles

May 21, 2004

Boston, Mass. Physical rehabilitation has traditionally consisted of arduously retraining the body on weight machines and other resistance devices, but with the growing interest in "smart fluids," NU engineering professor Constantinos Mavroidis envisions a simple brace that can increase the resistance on a healing joint with the turn of a dial.

"Smart fluids," is a generic term for any particle-filled, oil-based suspension which changes consistency in a magnetic or electric field. Mavroidis is working with electro-rheological fluids (ERFs) which go from liquid to solid the instant an electric field is applied; remove the field and the paste-like substance reverts to liquid.

The possible applications for ERFs have exploded over the last decade, including automotive technology and industrial uses, and Mavroidis and his co-researchers have already developed prototypes for a leg brace that could increase pressure on a joint simply by increasing the voltage from a small battery. Mavroidis is optimistic about starting human trial this fall in association with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.

The power of smart fluid could transform the rehabilitation process for millions of people. According to the National Health Interview Survey on Assistive Devices, 3.5 million individuals in the United States have used orthotic devices for rehabilitation or mobility assistance. Currently, the most effective types of orthoses consist are often noisy, cumbersome, or difficult to conceal. ERF-powered orthothics, which are efficient and streamlined, would revolutionize rehabilitation therapy.
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Northeastern University

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