Platinum Voyager explores micro-frontier
One of several shapes no microswimmer has taken on before Metal Tech News – Nov. 11, 2020
Last updated 7/10/2022 at 2:54pm
In the name of science, a team of Dutch researchers has 3D-printed a platinum-hulled, microscopic rendition of the Star Trek USS Voyager.
The creation of this Intrepid-class starship that measures roughly 15 microns, or about one-fifth the width of an average human hair, is part of a study of how complex shapes affect the motion of microswimmers.
While biological microswimmers such as bacteria have complex shapes that allow them to propel through blood and other viscous biological fluids, scientists have only created the simplest of shapes, mostly spheres and rods, for their artificial microswimmers.
With 3D printing, however, a research team at the Leiden University in the Netherlands has created a variety of complex shapes such as the miniaturized version of USS Voyager, a tiny tug boat, along with flower-like structures, spirals, and a helix.
The team was able to create these complex shapes at the micron level by using a laser to 3D print the shape from a sphere of photosensitive polymer.
The various 3D-printed shapes were coated with platinum, a strong catalyst that interacts with a hydrogen peroxide solution that they were submerged in, which allowed the scientists to observe how the shape affected the movement while "swimming" through the fluid.
While the USS Voyager shape is iconic for its science fiction pop culture reference, a 30 micron boat reminiscent of the one piloted by Steamboat Willie of early Disney fame is the most complex and detailed of the microswimmers the Dutch scientists printed for the study.
While the shapes were sometimes novel and fun, understanding the connection between the shape and motion of microswimmers could lead to future microrobots with the ability to swim through blood vessels to deliver a treatment to a specific area of the body.
"Ultimately, it will allow a greater control and design of the behavior of synthetic microswimmers, useful for applications in therapeutic diagnostics and drug delivery," the Dutch research team penned in a paper in Soft Matter, a journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Further studies will be required to see if an Intrepid-class starship, tugboat or some other shape will work best for such microbot deliveries.