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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R041555/1
Title: Artificial Transforming Swimmers for Precision Microfluidics Tasks
Principal Investigator: Montenegro-Johnson, Dr T
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: School of Mathematics
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 June 2018 Ends: 31 May 2020 Value (£): 229,917
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Continuum Mechanics Med.Instrument.Device& Equip.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Imagine a world where tiny objects could self-assemble from component microbots to perform a specific task, and then disassemble when no longer required, where chemotherapy is delivered directly to the site of tumours, and where heart surgery amounted to a simple injection. This is the great promise of a novel technology; the artificial swimming micromachine.

However, the current generation of swimming micromachines has a fundamental flaw; it is not possible to effectively control individuals within a large group. Without this precision control, it will be impossible for this technology to perform precision tasks such as targeted drug delivery.

But Nature has found myriad ways to overcome the challenge of propelling and steering microorganisms through complex environments. Inspired by Nature, this project will design swimming micromachines that can transform shape in order to perform different functions. The novel ability to transform will allow micromachines to transcend this control barrier, and realise the potential of this exciting technology.

Developing a prototype of these microtransformers is a complex task that spans traditional scientific disciplines, and will only be possible with new mathematical theories and cutting-edge materials that can be "programmed" to remember specific shapes.

The initial design to be used as a proof of concept will be a flexible filament, with both ends coated in platinum. When placed in hydrogen peroxide, the platinum will catalyse its reduction into water and oxygen, causing a flow at the surface of the filament. If the filament is straight, this flow should act as a pump, if it is bent in a "U"-shape, the filament should translate, and if bent into an "S"-shape, it should rotate. Using ultrasound to switch the filament between these preprogrammed shapes, the micromachine would then be able to navigate complex environments using a series of straight runs and on-the-spot reorientations, just like bacteria.

The project will take this novel idea, and develop new mathematical tools to model the coupled elastic, fluid, and chemical dynamics of slender filaments in order to optimise this initial design, and conceive new designs with greater functionality involving multiple filaments and ribbon-like structures. At the same time, experiments will develop a lab prototype that will be used to test and refine the theory.

By the end of the project, this prototype will be sufficiently developed to begin commercialisation of the technology for industrial use, and to begin the development of a "biocompatible" prototype for minimally-invasive medical applications.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk