So Vanadium is present in fossil fuel reserves, and in present in some organics on earth, I figure that if a planet was rich enough in Vanadium a species could ingest it, then the vanadium could be oxidized and turned into strands inside their bodies.

Now with that out of the way, I was wondering if there are any fast heating and cooling mechanisms in organics that I could use for inspiration when developing these muscles. The reason for this is that Vanadium Dioxide extends and retracts based on heat (I believe this shift happens at around 67 Celsius, and although fairly abrupt, a small enough change would allow for precise movement, albeit a little robotic), are there any mechanisms found in nature that would be capable of not only maintaining these temperature very exactly, but also creating minute changes in temperature very quickly. (if you would like me to elaborate on anything just post a comment on it and I will make an edit)

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    $\begingroup$ The vast majority of materials expand when heated and contract when cooled. Have your never seen an alcohol or mercury thermometer? What makes VO2 interesting is that it undergoes a phase transition at about 66 °C, changing from monoclinic crystals (below) to tetragonal crystals (above), with an abrupt change in density, electrical conductivity and optical properties. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 19, 2017 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm, I have read about vanadium dioxide being used as an incredibly strong muscle. But this is pretty hypothetical. I'm not sure if organisms like those on Earth could consume enough of it for producing muscle material, not get poisoned by it and be able to heat up to those temperatures. It might be possible, but I can't point to an organism that can use it/produce it. I'll see if I can find something else, but for now I'd suggest having inorganic life forms use it. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Aug 19, 2017 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the life forms are meant to be very alien, and live on a planet rich in it. So I'd assume that with evolution if you live around a toxic material long enough you'll adapt to it. Also, the planet they live on forces them to be nocturnal, with daytime temperatures reaching 170 Celsius or higher. So 67 Celsius isn't that extraordinary. My main question is if there is a mechanism we can see in nature that can cause exact and minute temperature changes to a specific region, like maybe having chemical stores around a muscle, then combining them (Like the bombardier beetle, but less dramatic) $\endgroup$
    – Xivote
    Aug 19, 2017 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Xivote If a planet with any appreciable atmosphere reaches 170°C during daytime, then my gut feeling is that it'll have a very hard time maintaining dihydrogen monoxide in its liquid state. (That might actually make for a decent separate question, if you specify the details of the atmosphere.) Now, this doesn't necessarily have to be a big problem; you could use some other solvent. But make sure there's something in the biosphere that can actually be used as a solvent throughout the temperature range seen, or your creatures are going to have bigger problems than jerky movement of limbs. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 19, 2017 at 10:37

1 Answer 1


You'll have to organize your muscles, just like our ones, as tridimensional arrays of very small elements.

In this condition your best bet is:

  • have a biology with "normal" temperature slightly below phase-transition (say 60°C)
  • use electrical current (just like we "recruit" our mio-fibers) to heat up a few degrees the tiny VO2 fibers (like they did in the experiment).
  • rely on the low thermal capacity to revert to "normal" as soon as current is not applied anymore.
  • have a high "blood" flux capable to drain away any excess heat in order to avoid tetanic contraction.
  • remember that in our muscles blood flux is impaired by contraction and it's completely blocked at around 60% of max force. Plan accordingly to avoid the problem or handwave it away.
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, heating it with electricity could work I'm sure. After all, human muscles are technically powered by electricity. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom: Just to be precise: human muscles are not "technically powered by electricity". Human muscle contraction is triggered by electricity and powered by chemical (ATP). I am unsure where energy needed for contraction comes in VO2 "muscles". $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I guess that you're right. Well maybe they could be powered by electrocytes. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:23

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