Copenhagen – it can be strong like steel, but shimmer like silk.

It's PolyPower, a somewhat astounding material devised by Danfoss, the Danish industrial giant. The fabric contracts and expands with small jolts of electricity. Give it a zap, and the fabric shrinks up. Take away the power, and it expands again.

Because it is flexible and very thin, PolyPower can be manipulated in various ways for different jobs. At a demonstration at Copenmind, a three-day conference hoping to link up university researchers with corporations and investors, scientists showed how a roll of PolyPower – about half the diameter of a full roll of paper towels – can lift a five kilometer weight a few millimeters when jolted with a small dose of power. When the power stops, the weight drops. The PolyPower roll, however, weighs far less than a steel piston, which makes it cheaper and more energy efficient to ship. It also won't wear out or start to wear out its cylinder.

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