Artificial Microswimmers

A 19-bead array.

Tiny organisms swim through a world much more viscous than ours. To do so, they swim asymmetrically, often using wave-like motions of tiny, hair-like cilia along their bodies. Mimicking this behavior in artificial swimmers is tough; how would you actuate so many micro-appendages? A new study offers a different method: inducing cilia-like waves using magnetic fields.

The researchers’ microswimmers are actually arrays of ferromagnetic particles. The Cheerios effect helps draw the particles together, while magnetic repulsion pushes them apart. Together, these forces help the particles assemble into crystal-like arrays.

To make the particles swim, the researchers shift the magnetic field. All of the outer particles of the array behave like individual cilia. As the magnetic field moves, the cilia-particles move in waves, much like their natural counterparts. Using this technique, the researchers were able to demonstrate both rotational and straight-line (translational) swimming. (Image, research, and submission credit: Y. Collard et al.)

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