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New Microbots Developed
To Revolutionize the Field of Medicine

A team of researchers at ETH Zurich have now come up with a technique for manufacturing machines that are just a micrometer in size. These machines are created by interlocking a number of materials in a complex way. These microbots are set to be revolutionary in the field of medicine.

Video Credits: ETH Zürich, YouTube

These microbots are made out of metal and plastic. In order to build this robot, the two materials are interlocked closely as links in a chain. This method is followed with the help of a new manufacturing technique devised by the researchers at ETH Zurich.

These robots are so tiny in size that they can move skillfully through the blood vessels and are capable of delivering medicines to certain points of the body. The researchers have spent years developing this technology. The details about this research are published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.

Carlos Alcântara who is one of the lead authors of the paper and a doctoral student at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems said, “Metals and polymers have different properties, and both materials offer certain advantages in building micromachines. Our goal was to benefit from all these properties simultaneously by combining the two.”

The new manufacturing method, with the help of which the structure of the robot was made possible was developed under the expertise of Salvador Pane, who is currently serving as a Professor at ETH. Professor Pane was working on a technology called 3D lithography for years. This is a high precision 3D printing technique which is capable of producing complex objects on a micrometer scale.

Image Credits: Alcântara et al. Nature Communications 2020

The scientists at ETH made use of this method in order to produce a mold or template to be used for these micro machines. The templates contained narrow grooves which were able to be filled with chosen materials. The scientists made use of electrochemical deposition and filled some of the grooves with metal and the rest with polymer and then proceeded to dissolve the template with solvents.

Fabian Landers, who is the lead author of the paper and a doctoral student in Professor Pané’s group, said that, “Our interdisciplinary group consists of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, chemists, and materials scientists who all work closely together. That was the key to developing this method.”

The micromachines developed are powered from outside the body with the help of magnetic fields; the magnetic metal parts installed facilitate this process. The polymer involved makes it possible to construct soft and flexible components and make parts that dissolve inside the body. That means, if some medication is attached to this type of polymer which is soluble in nature it will be possible to supply it selectively to certain points in the body.

For further developments, the scientists are now planning on refining these micro machines that are made out of just two components and the experiment with other materials. Also, they are also aiming to create even more complex machines and shapes which include those capable of folding and unfolding themselves.

With the help of future developments, these micro machines will not only be able to transport medication but will also be able to treat aneurysms which are bulges in blood vessels and will also be capable of performing some surgical procedures. This is an exciting development to witness.

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