The really big things we can expect from really tiny microbots

The really big things we can expect from really tiny microbots

Researchers from the University of California-San Diego have created 3D-printed “microfish” — each 120 microns long and 30 microns thick (thinner than a strand of human hair) — that can swim around in fluids and then perform tasks such as detect and neutralize toxins.

While the concept of microbots performing similar types of tasks has been around ever since Richard Feynman delivered his famous talk “There’s Plenty of Room At the Bottom” in 1959, one factor that makes this new microfish research initiative from Professors Shaochen Chen and Joseph Wang of the NanoEngineering Department at the University of California-San Diego so unique is that these microfish have a new source of locomotion that makes them easier to steer and control.

The microfish are essentially equipped with tiny hydrogen peroxide motors in their tails, which give them a chemical source of propulsion. In addition, they can be steered with the use of magnets, thanks to magnetic nanoparticles inserted in their heads. In short, they are chemically powered and magnetically controlled.

This combination of nanoparticles essentially creates a propulsion system for navigating fluids for the microfish – turning them into what the researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego refer to as “tiny robotic swimmers.” In a paper that appeared in the August 12 issue of Advanced Materials, they suggest that the microfish could even be engineered to have different shapes that go far beyond today’s spheres and cylinders typical of other microbots — you might even be able to 3D-print sharks or manta rays. (If you’re afraid of sharks in the ocean, wait until microsharks are swimming around in waters near you, perhaps cleaning up a toxic spill).

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