Soft robotics has the potential to revolutionize healthcare. Soft-robotic microparticles might one day be able to travel through the bloodstream to a desired location and then act as a stent, widening the blood vessel.
In Advanced Functional Materials, Prof. Rudolf Zentel and his co-workers from the University of Mainz report the design of magnetically controlled microparticles that can perform tasks at a specified location.
The microparticles were directed to arrive at a position with micrometer-level accuracy. These paths could be straight or circular, and cover centimeters in distance. This finely controlled movement resulted from the interaction of a complex, scalable arrangement of magnets with the iron oxide core of the microparticles.
Once the particle arrived at its destination, an external UV-light could be used to trigger a chemical reaction. This functionality was enabled by light-responsive polymers that were appended to the core.
The particles could also be used to push larger objects, such as a piece of plastic or metal, to target locations. The direction of pushing could be controlled magnetically and over a short distance through heat. Heating the particles detached them from the objects they were pushing. They could then be reattached from a different angle.