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These Micro-Robots Do the Breaststoke


A one-torso, one-arm swimmer made of magnetically linked particles moves under the influence of an eccentric magnetic field.

Rice University scientists have discovered what may be the simplest form of locomotion in the movement of micron-scale particles driven by a magnetic field.

Credit: Biswal Lab/Rice University

Researchers at Rice University have placed magnetized spheres of different sizes into a solution, and subjected them to an "eccentric magnetic field" so they self-assemble while smaller spheres, connected by virtual hinges, trace rough orbits to one side of their larger partners.

The researchers determined they could manipulate the magnetic field to steer swimming spheres through the fluid at almost a micron a minute.

"We're used to seeing this in how birds flock or bacteria swarm, but now we can see it in synthetic materials that also show an ability to couple with each other," says Rice's Sibani Lisa Biswal.

Rice alumnus Di Du says he thinks it will be possible to attach ligands or proteins to the large particles for delivery to cells or other biological sites, while the entire mechanism could be moved with a pair of magnetic coils at 90-degree angles.

From Rice News
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