Researchers at the University of California San Diego have announced the development of 3-D printed "microrobots" that can be programmed to swim through a liquid, removing specific toxins found within.
"We have developed an entirely new method to engineer nature-inspired microscopic swimmers that have complex geometric structures and are smaller than the width of a human hair," says nanoengineering student Wei Zhu, a report co-author studying under professors Shaochen Chen and Joseph Wang. "With this method, we can easily integrate different functions inside these tiny robotic swimmers for a broad spectrum of applications."
The fish-shaped devices, measuring at just 120 microns by 30 microns (25,400 microns equals one inch), feature platinum nanoparticles in their tails, which compel a swimming action when mixed with hydrogen peroxide.
While swimming, the fish emit a red glow — researchers are hopeful they'll be useful in a number of ways, including distributing drugs throughout the bloodstream of a human patient or collecting and removing toxins. They could also be designed to inspect for and report on the presence of a specific compound found within the body, or even to participate in internal surgical operations.
"It’s my personal hope to further this research to eventually develop surgical microrobots that operate safer and with more precision," says Jinxing Li, the study's other co-author.
For now, the university intends to continue lab experiments; no human trials are planned in the immediate future.